The Milky Way’s Black Hole Comes to Light

by 24USATVMay 13, 2022, 3 a.m. 21
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In 2019, the same team captured an image of the black hole in the galaxy Messier 87, or M87. That image, the first ever taken of a black hole, is now enshrined in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “We have seen what we thought was ‘unseeable,’” Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said at the time.

Astronomers said the new result would lead to a better understanding of gravity, galaxy evolution and how even placid-seeming clouds of stars like our own majestic pinwheel of stars, the Milky Way, can generate quasars, enormous geysers of energy that can be seen across the universe.

The news also reaffirms a prescient 1971 paper by Martin Rees of Cambridge University and his colleague Donald Lynden-Bell, who died in 2018, suggesting that supermassive black holes were the energy source of quasars. In an email, Dr. Rees called the new result “a logistical achievement (and I liked the computer models).”

Dr. Özel said that the similarity of the new picture to the one from 2019 demonstrated that the earlier image was not a coincidence. In an interview, Peter Galison, a physicist and historian at Harvard and a member of the collaboration, noted that the M87 black hole was 1,500 times as massive as the Milky Way’s; typically in physics or astronomy, when something increases by a factor of 10 or more, everything changes. “The similitude across such an immense scale is astonishing,” Dr. Galison said.

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