Images obtained by ESO’s VLTI of stars at the center of the Milky Way.
A team of astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has captured the deepest and sharpest images to date of the region around the supermassive black hole located in the center of the Milky Way.
The new images are 20 times closer to this area than was possible until now, thanks to the technology of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), according to an ESO statement.
This has made it possible to find a never-before-seen star, named S300, near the Sagittarius A * black hole. “The VLTI gives us incredible spatial resolution and, with the new images, we reach a depth never achieved before,” explained Julia Stadler, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching (Germany), who led the team’s work to obtain of pictures.
“We are astonished by the amount of detail and by the activity of the number of stars that reveal around the black hole,” he added. This new technology has also made it possible to trace the orbits of the stars in the center of the Milky Way to obtain the measurement most accurate so far of the mass of the black hole.
“We want to learn more about the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A *: how massive is it exactly? Broken? Do the stars around them behave as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity? ”Said Reinhard Genzel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), according to the source.
“The best way to answer these questions is to follow the stars in orbits close to the supermassive black hole. And here we show that we can do it with the highest precision ever achieved, ”continued Genzel, a 2020 Nobel laureate for his research on Sagittarius A *.
With their latest observations, made between March and July 2021, the team focused their work on making precise measurements of the stars as they approached the black hole.
Thus, they found the star S29, which in May 2021 passed at a distance of only 13,000 million kilometers and at a speed of 8,740 kilometers per second, setting a record for the closest and fastest approach to a black hole.
“Following stars in close orbits around Sagittarius A * allows us to accurately probe the gravitational field around the closest massive black hole to Earth, test General Relativity, and determine the properties of the black hole,” Genzel explained.
The new observations, combined with the team’s previous data, confirm that stars behave as predicted by General Relativity for objects moving around a black hole with a mass 4.3 million times that of the Sun.