Science

‘Extraordinary announcement’ about our galaxy’s central black hole expected May 12

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The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project will hold a global press conference on May 12 to announce new discoveries at the center of the Milky Way. This international collaboration between radio telescopes and the Event Horizon Telescope observatories was primarily aimed at obtaining the first image of a black hole. This has been done since 2019, when astronomers released the first-ever direct image of the event horizon of a black hole in the giant elliptical galaxy M87. Similarly, at a press conference scheduled for May 12, a historic revelation is expected to be made regarding our galaxy’s central black hole, Sagittarius A*.

The EHT is a virtual telescope (network of telescopes) with a diameter of 10,000 km. The larger the telescope, the more detail it can capture. However, this is not a unique telescope! Indeed, then it risks collapsing under its own weight… The Event Horizon telescope covers most of the globe thanks to a combination of several observatories scattered around the planet. Thus, it integrates the 30-meter IRAM (International Institute of Millimeter Radio Astronomy) telescope in Europe, the ALMA radio telescope in Chile (jointly operated by Europe, the US and Japan), as well as structures in the United States. Hawaii and Antarctica.

Despite this deployment of technology, a photograph of a “real” black hole has not yet come down to us, even though the EHT teams submitted a quality image in 2019. Indeed, this type of astronomical object has the main property of being so massive that nothing can escape, not even light. What scientists have been trying to observe for years is what is around the black hole, the “accretion disk”. This is a substance and gas that rotates around the core of an object at a very high speed, heated to extreme temperatures. Of course, they end up being devoured by the black hole.

Considering that the scientists of the project are holding simultaneous press conferences around the world on May 12 next year, we can conclude that their announcement is likely to be groundbreaking and may well concern the first image of a supermassive black hole at the center of the planet Milky Way, named Sagittarius. BUT*.

Two goals

For EHT, observing Sagittarius A* and M87* requires good meteorological conditions at eight sites simultaneously. Sagittarius A* was the first of two project targets. The object is located 26,000 light-years from Earth, at the very heart of our galaxy. Its mass is 4.3 million times that of the Sun, which is relatively small for a supermassive black hole. The second target is the black hole of the M87 galaxy, which is much larger and farther away.

Despite this, it was the M87 that gave the first usable results. Indeed, Sgr A* is obscured by a cloud of dust and gas, making it particularly difficult to study. The image of M87 looks a bit like a fuzzy orange smudge. In the middle is the “shadow” of the black hole, which looks like an opaque area. So we don’t actually see the black hole, as its gravity prevents any potentially detectable radiation from escaping. Experts compare taking a direct image of M87* to observing a 1-millimeter-sized object at a distance of 13,000 kilometers.

Note that the data generated by this surveillance network is large enough to move all the datasets, this was done by a whole box of hard drives. Also, not all data was available at the same time. Indeed, the Antarctic telescope has been isolated for half a year. In any case, we will have to wait until May 12th to find out what the EHT observed for Sgr A* and what the scientists concluded.

Multiple distribution channels for an innovative announcement

However, the ESO press release promises something “revolutionary”. This is a term that has already been used to announce the first direct image of a black hole in 2019. The conference will be streamed online on the ESO website and ESO YouTube channel on May 12, 2022 at 3:00 pm CET (3:00 am). 00:00 French time). Simultaneous press conferences will be held around the world, including Washington DC, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Tokyo and Taipei. The press releases will include important audiovisual material, enough to keep us dreaming!

As for ESO, the conference will take place at the headquarters in Germany. The ESO CEO will give a keynote address. Huib Jan van Langevelde, EHT Project Director, and Anton Zensus, Founding Chairman of the EHT Cooperation Council, will also make keynote presentations. The EHT research team will explain the result and answer questions. The lectures will be followed by a YouTube event with several EHT expert astronomers for the public, such as a Q&A session.

ECO

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