HomeTechAstronomers hint at 1st photos of Milky Way's supermassive black hole

Astronomers hint at 1st photos of Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

Just over three years after astronomers revealed the first photograph of a black hole, scientists are hinting at another remarkable image.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — an organization with more than 200 astronomers from around the world, including Canada — issued news releases earlier this week inviting media to attend events that “will announce groundbreaking results from the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration.”

In April 2019, the EHT released the first black hole image ever taken, a photograph of the supermassive black hole that lies in the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87 (M87).

But the second main target of the EHT is the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star); that photograph is one astronomers around the world have been eagerly anticipating.

The EHT is made up of a collection of eight telescopes around the world that, when used together, act as one giant, Earth-sized telescope. Together, they allow astronomers to make more detailed observations that are unrivalled by any singular telescope.

Most black holes are created when a massive star dies and collapses in on itself, though astronomers are still trying to determine how supermassive black holes form. They are extremely dense regions of space with a gravitational field, where anything that crosses their threshold — known as the event horizon — gets pulled in, never to return. This includes light, which is why black holes are so notoriously difficult to detect, unless they’re interacting with a nearby star.

M87 is roughly 50 million light years from Earth, and astronomers were able to use eight telescopes in different locations around the world to capture the image of the supermassive black hole at its centre, which is believed to be six billion times more massive than our sun.

In comparison, Sagittarius A* has a mass that is roughly 4.3 million times the mass of our sun and is located about 25,000 light years away from the Earth. 

But imaging Sagittarius A* is much more challenging, even though it’s much closer to us. Rather than looking at a galaxy that is facing us — like M87 — telescopes have to peer through the thick clouds of dust and plasma that lie between us and the supermassive black hole. 

The announcement will be made Thursday at 9:07 a.m. ET. 

Be sure to stay with CBC News for more on this developing story.

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