Illustration for article titled Scientists Do Extreme Close-Up On Milky Ways Black Hole

Forget "pretend" black holes in optical cables: astronomers at MIT have taken the highest-ever resolution imagery of the region of space near the giant black hole at the center of our galaxy, as shown in this image. In fact, the bright spot in the center is what they were looking at: it's a funky space-object dubbed SgrA* which may be a fiery disc of matter spinning round outside the event horizon.Normally dust clouds between our solar system and the galaxy core get in the way of observing the region near the center. The team achieved the feat not through a Wayne's World-style camera trick, but by observing at 1.3 mm radio wavelengths (which can traverse the dust) and using a Very Long Baseline Interferometry telescope. This links up radio telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona and California to make an effective compound radio telescope that's about 2,800 miles wide. As a result they could make images with a resolution about 1,000 times greater than the Hubble telescope. But even that's not quite enough. Imaging SgrA* has supported the theory that a supermassive black hole is right there at the galactic central point ("our results are more evidence that we are looking at a black hole," as the team puts it), but despite being among the highest resolution astronomical observations ever made, the data's not quite good enough to image the shape of the glowing cloud. That data would reveal whether it's a true disc, with or without jets, and whether there's a dimmer region in the middle as gas is sucked into the black hole. We'll have to wait for a few years until future shorter-wavelength telescopes come online. Maybe then we'll be able to see if there's a huge robot-populated spaceship hovering just outside the hole. [New Scientist via Physorg]


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