Scientists are set to unveil something “groundbreaking” about the center of the Milky Way this week, and it could involve our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.
On Thursday morning the US National Science Foundation (NSF) with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration will hold a press conference to announce what has been teased as “groundbreaking results about the center of our galaxy,” according to a press release.
No more information has been publicly released, so it’s unclear exactly what the announcement will be.
However, it is known that astronomers have been peering at the black hole at the center of our galaxy known as Sagittarius A* for some time. Scientists know that Sagittarius A* is there and that it is about 4.3 million times bigger than the sun.
However, the black hole has in many ways remained elusive. It was only as recently as this year that astronomers were able to infer more about exactly how much of the mass at the center of our galaxy is taken up by Sagittarius A*—about 99.9 percent. Scientists have never actually seen this black hole.
This might be about to change. Alberto Vecchio, professor of astrophysics and director of the Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Birmingham in the UK told newsweek it is possible that scientists might be set to announce the first-ever image of Sagittarius A*. This would also be only the second-ever direct image of any black hole after the one taken of M87 in 2019.
“I’m not a specific expert for those observations, but that is indeed what they’ve been gearing up to,” Vecchio said. “The results they released on M87 were already pretty spectacular, but to some extent, they were a stepping stone to actually get to the analysis of the galactic center. So I think it is perfectly conceivable that they’re going to present something similar for the galactic center.”
Black holes are notoriously hard to find since, by definition, light does not escape from them. Studying them more closely can reveal details about their two major characteristics; their mass and their spin. Being able to find out more about those two parameters in regards to Sagittarius A* would be “extremely important” and teach us more about the processes at the center of our galaxy, said Vecchio.
It should be noted that this is still speculation and the press release will ultimately reveal the true nature of the discovery. In any case, Vecchio said he and his colleagues have set a group meeting at the time of the announcement and he expects “lively discussions” afterward.
The NSF press conference is due to take place on May 12 at 9 am ET at The National Press Club in Washington, DC, and will also be streamed online on the NSF’s Facebook page and on its website, here.