What’s going on with our galaxy?
Astronomers have long suspected that 26,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius, hidden behind the clouds of dust and gas that shroud the center of the Milky Way, lies a massive black hole. Into this darkness, the equivalent of millions of stars were sent into eternity, leaving behind a ghostly gravitational field and violently twisted spacetime. No one knows where the door leads or what, if anything, is on the other side.
Humanity is now about to have its most intimate look into this chaos. Over the past decade, an international team of more than 300 astronomers has trained the Event Horizon Telescope, a global network of radio observatories, on Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), a faint source of radio waves – the suspected black hole — at the center of our galaxy. At 9 a.m. EST on Thursday, the team, led by Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will release its latest results at six concurrent press conferences in Washington and around the world.
The team is determined not to speak to the media. But in April 2019, the same group stunned the world by producing the first image of a black hole – a supermassive energy torus in the galaxy Messier 87, or M87, that circles the void.
“We saw what we thought was invisible,” Dr Doeleman said at the time. This image is now inscribed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The ill-informed bet is that the team has now managed to produce an image of Sagittarius A*, our own donut of doom. If Dr. Sheperd’s team once again saw “the unseen,” the realization would reveal a lot about how the galaxy works and what unfolds in its dark recesses.
The results could be dramatic and instructive, said Janna Levin, a gravitational theorist at Columbia University’s Barnard College, who was not part of the project. “I’m not bored with images of black holes yet,” she said.