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Astronomers capture first image of supermassive black hole at our galaxy's center

Corinne Purtill, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

"There's a prediction that you should see this concentration of light around the black hole, just outside the event horizon, and that you can actually see this is remarkable," Ghez said. "It's really exciting."

Photographing a black hole with a single telescope would have required a lens 13 million meters wide — in other words, a telescope about the size of Earth itself.

In place of that logistical impossibility, the Event Horizon Telescope collects data via eight radio observatories in Greenland, Antarctica, and six other locations in between, synchronized to atomic clocks. As the Earth rotates, the observatories view their target from a multitude of angles.

Sgr A*'s glamour shot was distilled from 5 petabytes of data, which is equivalent to 100 million TikToks, said EHT member Vincent Fish of the MIT Haystack Observatory. The published picture is an average of multiple images pulled from that data.

As recently as two decades ago, "I would have thought we would never see pictures like this. It would be too hard," said Daniel Stern, an astrophysicist studying black holes at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California.

 

"It looked better than I was expecting," he said. "It matches theories that are decades old of what we thought black holes would be like."

Because this black hole is so much smaller, the ring around it appears a lot busier. Gases that take weeks to orbit M87* can circle Sgr A* in just minutes. Given the rapid changes in emissions, it's possible that the telescope will be able to capture moving images of the activity around the event horizon in coming years, Bouman said — potentially in multiple dimensions.

"What if we could actually map out where the gas is over time in three dimensions around the black hole?" Bouman said. "That's one thing that I'm really excited about."

©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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