Thanks to the GRAVITY instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s aptly named “Very Large Telescope”, scientists have been able to confirm what they long suspected: There’s a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, the galaxy we inhabit.
According to a statement from ESO, a “consortium” of scientists from multiple European institutions observed flares of radiation coming from Sagittarius A*, the massive object at the centre of our galaxy. Scientists have long assumed that Sagittarius A* was a black hole, but this confirms it.
As Astronomy reported, scientists needed to observe objects travelling close to Sagittarius A* in order to confirm that it was indeed a black hole. When a star called S2 orbited deep into Sagittarius A*’s gravity well, they observed three flares travelling at 30 percent of the speed of light.
“We were closely monitoring S2, and of course we always keep an eye on Sagittarius A*,” explained Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. “During our observations, we were lucky enough to notice three bright flares from around the black hole — it was a lucky coincidence!
“It’s mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30% of the speed of light,” added Oliver Pfuhl. “GRAVITY’s tremendous sensitivity has allowed us to observe the accretion processes in real time in unprecedented detail.”
Reinhard Genzel, also of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, led the study. He called the result a “resounding confirmation”.
“This always was one of our dream projects,” he said, “but we did not dare to hope that it would become possible so soon.”