The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and the European Southern Observatory have announced a press conference for May 12 on “groundbreaking Milky Way results”. Despite no other details having been shared at this time, the excitement in the scientific community is palpable, and most are convinced that we are about to see the very first image of what Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, looks like.
The EHT was responsible for the first incredible image of a supermassive black hole, the leviathan sitting at the core of elliptical galaxy M87, located 53.5 million light-years away.
The fantastic achievement was part of a campaign of observations that also looked closer to home. About 26,000 light-years from us, at the center of the Milky Way, lies the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* – and the researchers might be finally ready to share the images of this cosmic object with the public.
When the picture of Pōwehi – a Hawai'ian word that translates to "the adorned fathomless dark creation" – at the center of M87 was taken, the EHT collaboration noted that the analysis of Sagittarius A* turned out to be more complex than anticipated. Now we might be able to finally meet our friendly neighborhood supermassive black hole.
But there could be more.
The EHT has received more investment and was able to expand the number of radio telescopes involved in this project. Thanks to a quirk of physics, by using two distant radio dishes at the same time, you can make them act as one with a size equal to how far apart they are. The many telescopes in the EHT spread from Antarctica to Greenland from Hawaii to Namibia – so the EHT is literally the size of the Earth.
By adding so many observatories, the team hopes to achieve not just images of supermassive black holes but also videos, showing how the “shadow” we can see thanks to radio waves actually is constantly changing due to the incredible gravity of these objects. Hoping for a video from the center of the Milky Way might be a bit too much at this point, but more observations took place just last month, so maybe we are not too far away from that too.
“This really is, as we like to say, the end of the beginning or the beginning of the middle, and the best is really yet to come. We want to increase the capability of the EHT to go from still images to making movies. Imagine being able to see a black hole evolve in real-time,” Dr Shep Doeleman, founding director of the EHT, told IFLScience when the collaboration won the Breakthrough Awards in 2019.
See you all in two weeks to find out what these groundbreaking results actually are.