Milky Way black hole ‘groundbreaking result’ coming soon

What is at the center of our galaxy? Decades of calculations and data point to a supermassive black hole about 4 million times the mass of our sun. But we never have seen it. This could change soon.

On May 12, the Event Horizon Telescope project will announce what it calls “groundbreaking results from the Milky Way.” Although there are few details about what exactly will be revealed, there is a strong possibility that astronomers have captured an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way for the first time.

In April 2019, the EHT cooperation revealed the first-ever image of another black holethe supermassive beast at the center of the galaxy Messier 87, dubbed M87*.

The Event Horizon Telescope was able to generate the image using eight radio telescopes from around the world. Synchronizing these telescopes helped create the image at the top of this article. Though it looks a little like a fuzzy campfire, it was a groundbreaking result: the first time humans have seen the most fascinating and bewildering objects in the universe.

More work revealed the extreme magnetic fields associated with M87*enabling scientists to better understand the environment about the black hole.

But the EHT did not just study M87*. The array of telescopes that make it up were also aimed at the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A*. About 4.3 million times the mass of the Sun, the black hole is just 25,000 light-years from Earth — cosmically close. For comparison: M87* is about 6 billion times more massive and about 50 million light-years distant from Earth.

Imaging Sgr A* is much more difficult than M87* because there are many more things — cosmic gas and dust — interfering with radio telescopes as they look at the heart of our home galaxy. So it was “easier” (and I use that term very loosely) to take a picture of M87* first.

But… could the EHT have overcome these problems? Announcing a result like this means something big is about to happen, and this is the same playbook the collaboration used to announce the results of M87*. To be clear up front, press releases from the EHT collaboration have not indicated that we will get a new photo of black holes. They merely call this a groundbreaking discovery in the Milky Way, but given the EHT’s history, it’s hard to imagine what else this could be.

That makes it hard to say exactly what the groundbreaking result will be, I’d bet on the second photo of a black hole and the first image of our home galaxy’s cosmic behemoth.

After speaking to astronomers unaffiliated with the EHT project on Thursday and scrolling through Twitter, it almost seems so anyone believes this will be a picture of the dark heart of our galaxy.

So, astronomers, please, just tell us there’s a great photo coming from Sgr A*. Tell us that on May 12 we can see the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. We put two and two together! This isn’t a Marvel movie! You don’t have to give us that post-credits scene to tease us about the sequel. We know what you’re up to, and we’re buying tickets to the show anyway.

And if that isn’t another image of a black hole, then the radio telescopes have found something different that justifies such a foreboding – you’ll still want to tune in.

The results will be presented during a press conference on May 12 at 6:00 p.m. PT (9:00 a.m. ET) for you to follow. It will be livestreamed on the US National Science Foundation website and CNET will be covering it for sure so you can follow along here. Just drop by again on Thursday. Milky Way black hole ‘groundbreaking result’ coming soon

Chris Barrese

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