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Uclan astronomers reveal first image of the black hole at the heart of Milky Way

Posted on - 23rd May, 2022 - 8:24pm | Author - | Posted in - Preston News, Proud Preston, UCLan, University campus
Professor Derek Ward Thompson pictured at a previous lecture he gave on black holes
Professor Derek Ward Thompson pictured at a previous lecture he gave on black holes

A UCLan research team has been involved in a global collaborative project to reveal the first image of the black hole in our galaxy.

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On May 12, 2022, an international team of astronomers, including those from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), unveiled the first image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy.

The UCLan researchers, led by Professor Derek Ward Thompson, are part the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, which has used observations from a worldwide network of eight radio telescopes to take the stunning image.

The image is a long-anticipated look at the massive object that sits at the very centre of our galaxy. Scientists had previously seen stars orbiting around something invisible, compact, and very massive at the centre of the Milky Way.

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This strongly suggested that this object, known as Sagittarius A*, is a black hole and the image provides the first direct visual evidence of it.

A star in the Milky Way Galaxy
A star in the Milky Way Galaxy

Commenting on the announcement Professor Ward-Thompson, the Head of UCLan’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “The publication of the EHT picture of the Sagittarius A* black hole is a tremendously exciting achievement by the collaboration.

“The University of Central Lancashire has been associated with the James ClerkMaxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii for over 30 years, and the JCMT is a core part of the world-wide network of telescopes that has taken this picture.”

(The effort was made possible through the ingenuity of more than 300 researchers from 80 institutes around the world that together make up the EHT Collaboration.)

In addition to developing complex tools to overcome the challenges of imaging Sgr A*, the team worked rigorously for five years, using supercomputers to combine and analyse their data, all while compiling an unprecedented library of simulated black holes to compare with the observations. 

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Scientists are particularly excited to finally have images of two black holes of very different sizes, which offers the opportunity to understand how they compare and contrast.

They have also begun to use the new data to test theories and models of how gas behaves around supermassive black holes. This process is not yet fully understood but is thought to play a key role in shaping the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Progress on the EHT continues: a major observation campaign in March 2022 included more telescopes than ever before.

The ongoing expansion of the EHT network and significant technological upgrades will allow scientists to share even more impressive images as well as movies of black holes in the near future.

UCLan’s Professor Ward-Thompson has been named as the chair of the talented group of scientists which forms the EHT publication committee as well as the communicating author for the six prestigious research papers which are to be published as a result of the discovery.

To view the EHT team’s results here is a link to the special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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