What is happening to our galaxy?
Astronomers have long suspected that 26,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius, lurking behind the clouds of dust and gas that shroud the center of the Milky Way, is a massive black hole. In this darkness, the equivalent of millions of stars have been sent into eternity, leaving behind a ghostly gravitational field and violently twisted space-time. No one knows where the door leads or what, if anything, is on the other side.
Humanity is now ready to get its most intimate look at this chaos. For the past decade, an international team of more than 300 astronomers has been training the Event Horizon Telescope, a worldwide network of radio observatories, on Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), a faint source of radio waves, the putative black hole: in the center of our galaxy. On Thursday at 9 a.m. ET, the team, led by Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will release its latest results at six simultaneous press conferences in Washington and around the world.
The team is determined not to talk to the media. But in April 2019, the same group shocked the world by producing the first image of a black hole: a supermassive torus of energy in the galaxy Messier 87, or M87, circling the void.
“We have seen what we thought was invisible,” Dr. Doeleman said at the time. That image is now enshrined in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The uninformed bet is that the team has now managed to produce an image of Sagittarius A*, our very own donut of doom. If Dr. Sheperd’s team has seen the “unseen” again, the achievement would reveal much about how the galaxy works and what unfolds in its dark corners.
The results could be spectacular and informative, said Janna Levin, a gravitational theorist at Columbia University’s Barnard College, who was not part of the project. “I’m still not bored with images of black holes,” she said.