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 the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, the same global team that famously captured the first-ever image of a black hole in the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy in 2019. completely dark, it is surrounded by a bright ring of glowing gas that has been distorted by its own gravity.
While the team recognized the visual similarities between the new image and the 2019 M87* image, the hole’s masses and types of galaxies are very different. They found that Sagittarius A*, which is at the center of our small spiral galaxy, consumes gas much more slowly than M87*, which is at the center of a giant elliptical galaxy and ejects a powerful plasma beam .
“If Sagittarius A* were the size of a donut, M87* would be the size of the Allianz Arena, Munich’s football stadium just a few miles from where we are now,” said 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 agreement reveals to us an important aspect of black holes; regardless of their size or the environment in which they live. Once you get to the edge of a black hole, gravity takes over.”