The supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy has been photographed for the first time, giving astronomers invaluable insight into how black holes interact with their surroundings.
The object, known as Sagittarius A*, was captured by Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, the same global team who took the famous first-ever picture of a black hole inside the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy in 2019. Although the hole itself is entirely dark, it’s encircled by a bright ring of glowing gas that’s been warped by its own gravity.
While the team acknowledged the visual similarities between the new picture and 2019’s M87* image, the hole’s masses and types of galaxies are very different. They were able to work out that Sagittarius A*, which resides at the center of our small spiral galaxy, consumes gas at a much slower rate than M87*, which resides at the center of a giant elliptical galaxy and ejects a powerful jet of plasma.
“If Sagittarius A* were the size of a donut, M87* would be the size of the Allianz Arena, the Munich football stadium just a few kilometers from where we are today,” Dr Sara Issaoun, NASA Einstein fellow at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told a press conference at the European Southern Observatory in Germany. “This similarity reveals to us a key aspect of black holes; no matter their size, or the environment they live in. Once you arrive at the edge of a black hole, gravity takes over.”