An international team of astronomers on Thursday unveiled the first image of a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, at the center of the Milky Way, reported DW, quoting news agencies AFP, AP and dpa.
It comes three years after the very first image of a black hole from a distant galaxy was released.
Black holes are regions of space whose gravity pull is so strong that nothing can escape it, including light.
"For decades, we have known about a compact object that is at the heart of our galaxy that is four million times more massive than our Sun," Harvard University astronomer Sara Issaoun told a press conference in Garching, Germany.
"Today, right this moment, we have direct evidence that this object is a black hole," she added.
Within Milky Way but far away
The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaborative and is the first direct visual rendering of the presence of this object, which is invisible to the naked eye.
The black hole itself is not depicted by the telescope's image, but rather the glowing gas that encircles it in a bright ring of light.
Sagittarius A* is thought be several million times more dense than Earth's sun.
Although it is within our Milky Way galaxy, the black hole is located an estimated 27,000 light years from earth — by comparison, the sun is a little more than 8 light minutes away from Earth.
EHT captured the image
To capture the image from Sagittarius A*, scientists had to link eight giant radio observatories across the planet to form a single "Earth-sized" virtual telescope, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).
"The EHT can see three million times sharper than the human eye," German scientist Thomas Krichbaum of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy told reporters.
To capture the image, the EHT observed Sgr A* for multiple nights for many hours in a row, the same process used to produce the first image of a black hole in 2019.
Despite being closer to Earth, it was still difficult to capture the image. The brightness and pattern of the gas surrounding Sgr A* changed rapidly as the team observed it, "a bit like trying to take a clear picture of a puppy quickly chasing its tail," said EHT scientist Chi-kwan Chan of the University of Arizona.