Scientists have used telescopes from all over the earth to edge closer to imaging the supermassive back hole (SMBH) at the center of the Milky Way, reports Newsweek. An SMBH, the largest type of black hole, is found in the middle of almost all known massive galaxies. The SMBH that inhabits our galaxy is located at approximately the galactic center of the galaxy (18hrs, -29 deg), and it is known as Sagittarius A*.
Pronounced Sagittarius A-star, this spiral structure within Sagittarius A West and Sagittarius A East “contains an intense compact radio source.” It’s located approximately 26,000 light years away from earth, and it can’t be seen by normal optics. Instead, Sagittarius A* lies hidden beneath the Milky Way’s enormous dust clouds.
Scientists have previously used radio waves and infrared light to help them see the center of the galaxy. But now, an impressive imaging project may be about to shed some new light on the SMBH. The Event Horizon Telescope takes images from telescopes located around the globe and then stitches them together. This is accomplished via the internet, so there’s no need to wait an extended amount of time for the project’s images to be compared and analyzed.
The imaging project takes its name from what’s known scientifically as an “event horizon.” This is the point where nothing, including light, has enough strength to withstand the black hole’s gravitational pull. To put it into layman’s terms, encountering an event horizon would be similar to getting caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam within the Star Wars universe. Although in the real world, it would also be accompanied by absolute darkness and certain death. After all, black holes are powerful enough to eat an entire star in as quickly as two days.
Astronomers say they’ve discovered the fastest-growing black hole in known existence: it is 20 million times the size of the sun and can eat a star every 2 days.— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 21, 2018
(Don’t worry, it’s 12 billion light years away.) pic.twitter.com/jAQGUZaBid
So far, the Event Horizon Telescope has provided enough details for scientists to begin developing a firm understanding of the black hole’s structure. Much like artist’s illustrations have suggested, the research team has concluded that the event horizon is most likely a ring-like structure.
The next step is to put together actual images of Sagittarius A*. After five years of work, the Event Horizon Telescope team believes this could happen before the end of 2018. That doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the world would get a look at it that soon, but images would definitely be released after they were thoroughly analyzed and cleaned up.
If scientists are able to pull this off with the Event Horizon Telescope, it’s not a stretch to assume that they’d soon use the same technology to image other relatively unknown objects in space. Perhaps taking a close look at a black hole will eventually lead to life being found on another planet.