Black Hole Shocker! December 11, 2008Posted by Sarah in science.
Tags: astronomy, black hole, eso, galactic centre, politics
Astronomers have been able to confirm that the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy contains a supermassive black hole, read the headlines (here, here, here) yesterday. Brilliant! The galactic centre observations of the last 15 or so years, at both the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching and the University of California in LA are really exciting stuff. Videos like this one (and more here)of the stars whizzing round the galactic centre at immense speeds are great. Furthermore, and most excitingly, the mapping of these stars’ motions has allowed astronomers on both sides of the Atlantic to deduce independently that the central mass in our Galaxy is so dense and confined to such a small space that it can only exist in the form of a supermassive black hole. The observation of the ultra-powerful radio source, Sagittarius A*, in the central region of the Galaxy supports this conclusion, as radio jets are thought to be associated with infalling matter around black holes.
Technology played a crucial part in the discovery: astronomers have only been able to track the stars in the densely crowded galactic centre to the required precision with the aid of adaptive optics, which correct for distortions arising in the Earth’s atmosphere and give the necessary boost to the resolution of the instrument.