Massive black hole at heart of Milky Way seen for first time

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The black hole is called  Sagittarius A* (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration via AP)
The black hole is called Sagittarius A* (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration via AP)

The first image revealing a “supermassive” black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy has been released.

Unveiled on Thursday, the image captures what Feryal Ozel from the University of Arizona described as “the gentle giant in the centre of our galaxy”.

Lurking at the centre of our Milky Way, the massive black hole named Sagittarius A* devours matter with such an immense gravitational pull, that not even light can escape its grasp.

The black hole is 26,000 light years away in distance, near the border of Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations, and is a staggering four million times the mass of our sun.

Michael Johnson, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics called the black hole “ravenous but inefficient,” and said it is eating relatively little matter.

The image was produced by an international consortium called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, who used eight syncronhised telescopes from around the world to capture the image.

It is their second image after releasing in 2019 a picture of another giant black hole at the centre of another galaxy known as M87.

Professor Heino Falcke, who is one of the pioneers behind the EHT project, said the most recent image was “special because it’s our supermassive black hole”.

Black holes are extremely difficult to take images of as light and matter cannot escape its gravitational pull, and previous attempts to capture the Milk Way black hole were thwarted due to it being too jumpy.

Scientists found it was difficult to take a good picture as light is being bent and twisted by gravity as it is sucked into the Milky Way black hole.

But Sagitarrius A* is not a cause for alarm, according to astronomers, who believe nearly all galaxies have these black holes at their centre.

The project to capture the black hole cost nearly $60m (£49m), with $28m (£23m) coming from the US National Science Foundation.