Space

BREAKING: We have the first-ever image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy

Strap yourselves in, something really cool is coming. Scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration are about to present the world with new information about our galaxy.

The exact contents of the announcement have been closely guarded by the scientific community, but it’s being called a “groundbreaking discovery in the Milky Way”. 

You can watch the press conference live right here, and follow our live blog below, to find out what exactly the discovery is at the same time we do.

The results being presented are from the EHT project, which was responsible for producing the first-ever image of a black hole in 2019 – so we’re practically buzzing with anticipation to see what they have for us now.

All times below are in UTC and chronological order. Refresh and scroll to the bottom to see the latest updates. We’ll be adding new information every few minutes.

12.40: Okay, the moment has arrived! We’re on the edge of our seats and immensely excited to share this huge moment in astronomy with all of you. We’ll be updating this blog every few minutes so keep hitting refresh!

12.41: For those who are catching up, here’s what we know so far about the announcement. Results are from the EHT, which gave us our first image of a black hole almost three years ago. We also know the results concern our own Milky Way… which suggests that perhaps we’re about to see the very first image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

If astronomers have managed to produce a direct image of Sgr A*’s event horizon, it will be a historic moment… so make sure you’ve got snacks and plenty of fluids on hand. You’re not going to want to miss this.

12.43: It’s not just the fact that this black hole is in our home galaxy that would make this announcement so cool. It’s actually an incredibly difficult feat. Sgr A* is about 4.3 million times the mass of the Sun, with an event horizon 25.4 million kilometers in diameter, and is 25,800 light-years away. Trying to image it would be like trying to photograph a tennis ball on the Moon.

12.44: Black holes are extremely difficult to image at the best of times, because they are quite literally invisible, absorbing all electromagnetic radiation. But Sgr A* is even trickier to study because it’s obscured by a cloud of dust and gas.

Sgr A* was a major target for the EHT’s April 2017 observing campaign. If astronomers have imaged the black hole’s horizon, it should appear as a glowing donut. This is the black hole’s accretion disk, a ring of gas and dust that gives off radiation as it orbits Sgr A*.

12.45: 15 minutes to go!

12.48: The livestream is filmed out of the headquarters of the European Space Observatory in Germany. But it’s being broadcast simultaneously alongside announcements from Washington DC, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Tokyo, and Taipei. 

In the livestream we’ll be hearing from:

  • Thomas Krichbaum, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany

  • Sara Issaoun, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, US and Radboud University, the Netherlands

  • José L. Gómez, Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (CSIC), Spain

  • Christian Fromm, Würzburg University, Germany

  • Mariafelicia de Laurentis, University of Naples “Federico II” and the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), Italy  

The National Science Foundation announcement from Washington D.C. will feature:

  • Katherine (Katie) L. Bouman, Assistant Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Electrical Engineering and Astronomy at Caltech 

  • Vincent Fish, Research Scientist at MIT Haystack Observatory 

  • Michael Johnson, Astrophysicist at Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian 

  • Feryal Özel, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at University of Arizona  

That may sound like a lot, but there are numerous other researchers involved in this work. Suffice to say, this has been a huge, collaborative undertaking. 

It’s worth noting that all of the scientists listed here work with black holes in some way, shape or form.

12.51: There’s a lot of buzz right now from the astronomy community over on Twitter.

We can’t wait!

12.55: Five-minute warning everyone! Last chance to get those snacks!

12.58: Totally not sweating over here… two minutes to go. We have a countdown! We have music! This is really happening!

13.00: Here we go. 

13.01: THIS IS IT! We’re really about to meet Sgr A*!

13.02: ESO Director General Xavier Barcons is introducing us to proceedings… 

We’ve been so close to Sgr A* many times before, he says, with telescopes studying the movements of the stars around the galactic center, allowing us to measure the supermassive black hole. 

“However, we are yet to see direct visuals of this object,” says Barcons. (!!!!)

13.04: Barcons is talking about the 300+ international scientists, lots more support personnel, and eight radio observatories around the world working in collaboration to achieve this groundbreaking result. It’s a timely reminder of what we can achieve when countries work together, he adds.

13.05: Here it come! Here’s Huib van Langeveld EHT Project Director with the image.

13.06: We are going to be flying into the heart of the galaxy to meet our galactic center, from the plains of Chile where the ALMA telescope is located. 

13.07: GASP LOOK AT THAT!!

SgrA blackholeThe supermassive blackhole at the center of SgrA*. (EHT Collaboration)

13.08: Oh wow, this is amazing. To be clear, we can’t see the black hole itself – but it’s there, in that dark patch in the middle of a disk of glowing material.

13.14: Sara Issaoun of Harvard is now speaking. We now, she says, for the first time, have direct evidence that Sgr A* is a black hole. The dark patch in the center is the shadow of the black hole; around it, hot gas swirls, heated by friction. This gas gives off radio radiation that we can detect. 

Its size is about 52 arcseconds in the sky, equivalent to imaging a donut on the Moon. Since the size of a black hole’s shadow is related to its mass, we can use it to confirm that its mass is around 4 million times that of the Sun. This is exactly in agreement with Einstein’s predictions from General Relativity!

Sgr A* looks very similar to the first image of a black hole ever obtained, that of M87*, even though the two are very different, and are in very different environments. This tells us that, no matter their size of environment, the space around a black hole is going to be dominated by gravity.

13.17: Thomas Krichbaum of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany is now sharing the technical details of this tremendous achievement. It took 25 years to develop and refine the techniques to combine telescopes around the world into one giant, Earth-sized telescope that can achieve the resolution required to image black holes.

The result is an interferometer that is 3 million times sharper than the human eye. For the image of Sgr A*, six terabytes of data were obtained – analysis of this data took several years and required the development of new tools.

This live blog is being updated constantly, please keep refreshing.

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