The first photo of a black hole at the center of our galaxy: when it was actually taken

As part of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, the working group presented a stunning image of the Sagittarius black hole

A* at the center of the Milky Way.To do this, scientists collected and analyzed data collected by telescopes around the world. Agence France-Presse spoke to Cathy Bowman, who took part in the project.

At 33, she is not only an assistant professorCaltech, but also a veteran of two major scientific discoveries. Bowman is an expert in the field of computational visualization, namely the development of algorithms for observing distant phenomena. She helped create the program that led to the publication of the first image of a black hole in the distant galaxy M87 in 2019.

Photo: ETH

Now she has again played a key role in the creationgroundbreaking image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, a cosmic body known as Sagittarius A*. Its Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration task force, which unveiled the stunning image on Thursday, has been tasked with putting it together from a mass of data collected by telescopes around the world.

Why is this picture important?

The M87 shot was so breathtaking because itwas the first. It was the first opportunity to see a black hole. But the holy grail of the Event Horizon has always been the Sagittarius A* image, says Bowman. The reason is that scientists were interested in correlating their observations and the real image of Sgr A*.

Therefore, although this is the second image of a black hole,in fact it is more exciting. After all, it “could be used to conduct more tests of our understanding of gravity,” the scientist emphasizes. So, EHT project scientist Jeffrey Bauer from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Academy Sinica said that scientists "were stunned by how well the size of the ring agrees with the predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity."

Why was it harder to make?

As it turned out, the Bowman team and other scientistscollected data for both M87* and Sgr A* in the same week. This happened back in 2017. However, it took the experts much longer to complete a complete image of Sgr A* than it did for M87*.

Photo: ETH

Near the black hole at the center of the Milky Way"There's a lot going on," and that made it harder for scientists to create the image, Bowman noted. “In fact, we are observing a black hole through the plane of the galaxy. And this means that the gas in it greatly scatters the image. It seems that we are looking at a black hole through a frosted window.” But it turned out that this was only one problem.

The hardest part is that a black hole evolvesvery fast. “The gas in M87* and Sgr A move at about the same speed. But while a complete revolution around M87 takes from several days to several weeks, Sgr A * takes minutes, ”the scientist explains.

What will happen next?

“I think this is really just the beginning.And now that we know we have these extreme gravity labs, we can go back and improve our tools and algorithms to see more and extract more science,” said Kate Bowman.

It turned out that her team had already taken the firstattempts to film a black hole. As Bowman noted, her scientists have already "made a lot of progress, but have not yet reached the goal." In the future, researchers will try to use more telescopes around the world and collect more data.

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