Scientists are one step closer to imaging the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A thanks to the analysis of observations from telescopes across the planet.
The observations are part of the lofty Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, which connects telescopes around the world over the internet, basically forming a powerful global observatory. The main focus of EHT is to image, for the first time, the event horizon, which is the point of no return beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape the immense gravitational pull of the black hole.
Five years ago, the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) joined the EHT and significantly increased the resolution of the images it was able to capture. This allowed scientists to observe in unprecedented detail the areas right next to Sagittarius A’s event horizon.
These observations were taken at a resolution of three Schwarzschild radii—which is three times the hypothetical size of the black hole itself, equal to about 36 million kilometres.
This may not seem very exact. Yet, the observations have given scientists sufficient data to begin calculating the structure of the event horizon.
Ru-Sen Lun from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany, and lead author of a new study explained in a statement that they started to figure out what the horizon-scale structure may look like, rather than just draw generic conclusions from the visibilities that we sampled. Their work was published in the Astrophysical Journal.
He continued by saying it is very encouraging to see that the fitting of a ring-like structure agrees very well with the data, though we cannot exclude other models.
This new discovery means that scientists may be able to image the event horizon of Sagittarius A by the end of 2018, however, further observations are still needed.
Sheperd Doeleman, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a director of the EHT, said in a statement that the results are an important step to the ongoing development of the Event Horizon Telescope and the analysis of new observations will bring us another step closer to imaging the black hole in the centre of our galaxy.
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