Scientists have long theorized that most galaxies, including our Milky Way, have a supermassive black hole at their center.
However, they had been unable to find that elusive cosmic proof to confirm their long-held belief; well, not until the European Southern Observatory’s supersensitive GRAVITY instrument on the VLT (Very Large Telescope) provided the images and data that had been dodging them all these years.
The VLT, which is world’s most advanced optical telescope, is strategically located at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert in Chile.
The research paper entitled “Detection of Orbital Motions Near the Last Stable Circular Orbit of the Massive Black Hole SgrA*” was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on October 31.
The findings not only prove a point for the scientists but also substantiates Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and cosmological evolution, as well as his conviction that Blackholes did exist.
In their attempt to measure the effects of gravity on an object passing close to a black hole, scientists trained the VLT on a small star called S2, situated 26,000 lightyears away.
“This always was one of our dream projects but we did not dare to hope that it would become possible so soon,” said study lead Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany.
He went on to add that the result was “a resounding confirmation of the massive black hole paradigm.”
S2 was the ideal choice for the research team for the simple reason that it comes precariously close to Sagittarius A*’s gravity well once every sixteen years as it orbits this compact object – believed to be a black hole – at the heart of the Milky Way, packing a gravitational pull of 4 million suns it has sucked into its bottomless depths.
As S2 was due to pass Sagittarius A* this year, the researchers formed two teams to track it as it zipped past the hungry monster at speeds of 3,000 miles per second.
“We were closely monitoring S2, and of course we always keep an eye on Sagittarius A*., Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the MPE, said in a statement.
“During our observations, we were lucky enough to notice three bright flares from around the black hole — it was a lucky coincidence!”, added Pfuhl.
These flares that Pfuhl was talking about were the result of swirling masses of gas circling the Sagittarius A*’s event horizon at about 30 percent of the speed of light, fast enough to generate three powerful flashes of radiation from the clouds.
The researchers also noted that the gas clumps took around 45 minutes to circle the 150- million-mile circumference of the event horizon – the point of no return if you will.
“It’s mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30% of the speed of light,” Pfuhl said.
“GRAVITY’s tremendous sensitivity has allowed us to observe the accretion processes in real time in unprecedented detail,” he said.
Although not part of the study, Dr. Josephine Peters – an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford – told Business Insider that “astronomers have observed material as close as you can get to a black hole without being consumed by it.”
‘Even though [Sagittarius A*] is our closest supermassive black hole, it is still incredibly mysterious,” she said., adding that the discovery “marks the beginning of understanding more about our nearby astronomical monster.”
Studying radio maps of powerful jet sources, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK have also “found signs that would usually be present when looking at black holes that are closely orbiting each other,” reported the Financial Express last week.
“Before black holes merge they form a binary black hole, where the two black holes orbit around each other, ” said the Financial Express article.
“We have studied the jets in different conditions for a long time with computer simulations,” said Martin Krause who belongs to the University of Hertfordshire.
“In this first systematic comparison to high-resolution radio maps of the most powerful radio sources, we were astonished to find signatures that were compatible with jet precession in three quarters of the sources,” he added.