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Scientists reveal astonishing image of supermassive black hole in our galaxy

Scientists reveal astonishing image of supermassive black hole in our galaxy

It looks like something straight out of a movie.

A new image of a supermassive black hole swirling away in the Milky Way has been released, and it's pretty astonishing.

It's the black hole that forms the very heart of our galaxy, and it's notoriously hard to snap a picture of.

It took the combined efforts of hundreds of researchers across Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America to create it, using the Event Horizon Telescope.

EHT Collaboration
EHT Collaboration

The black hole is called Sagittarius A*, and while it has previously been captured, this was the first time scientists were able to show its magnetic fields - which are clearly visible as orange swirls around it.

Polarized light filters were employed to capture these fields, and the overall impression is eerily reminiscent of the famous Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, a flaming eye on top of a great tower.

According to co-lead of the project, Dr Sara Issaoun from the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian: "What we're seeing now is that there are strong, twisted, and organized magnetic fields near the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy."

While that might sound like a modest discovery, it's a huge one in terms of informing our understanding of the actual mechanics of black holes, and how they interact with the gas around them.

This was confirmed by project co-lead and Harvard Black Hole Initiative Fellow Angelo Ricarte, who said: "Polarized light teaches us a lot more about the astrophysics, the properties of the gas, and mechanisms that take place as a black hole feeds."

Since most large galaxies we've discovered have black holes at their heart, this is a major area of study for astronomers.

EHT Collaboration
EHT Collaboration

For a sense of scale, Sagittarius A* has four million times the mass of our Sun, so it's absolutely enormous - to the point where it's pretty challenging to even wrap your head around.

The way the image was captured might sound simple on the surface, but it's worth knowing that the Event Horizon Telescope is in fact a linked network of eight existing telescopes, forming one giant virtual observation device.

This let the collaborating teams capture imagery and wavelengths that they'd struggle to manage individually, so it's a great example of how cooperation can reap rewards in scientific fields.

Another key part of the discovery is a real similarity between the black hole in our Milky Way, and another called M87*. Those similarities are, again, potentially going to be hugely instructive in our understanding of these celestial giants moving forward.

Featured Image Credit: EHT Collaboration / NASA