The Imaging of Sagittarius A*: A Monumental Scientific Achievement

On Thursday, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration released images of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*. It is a direct detection of one of the most elusive types of astronomical objects and the culmination of more than a century of theoretical and experimental astronomical studies. The results are also a brilliant demonstration of the possibilities generated by human labor coordinated on an international and scientific basis.

More than 300 astronomers and hundreds of engineers and support staff from 60 institutions in 20 countries and regions on all seven continents have made the observations, processed the data and maintained the technical infrastructure necessary for such an immense undertaking. After Sgr A*’s observations were made in 2017, thousands of terabytes of data were transported to the MIT Haystack Observatory and the Max Planck Institute of Study to be processed and analyzed on some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. It took five years of work to characterize and understand the results.

X-ray and infrared images from NASA’s Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, respectively, were used to create this image of the Milky Way’s galaxy core to complement and expand the images produced by the Event Horizon telescope of the central supermassive black hole. of the galaxy. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO, NASA/HST/STScI, Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

The immediate result is the product of more than two decades of planning through the collaboration, launched in 2009 with the primary goal of observing the two largest black holes in the sky as seen from Earth, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) and the black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87. To do this, the collaboration involved radio telescopes from around the world and combined their observation capabilities to view astronomical objects never before seen directly.

The telescopes involved in capturing the data needed to produce the final image include the Atacama Large Millimeter Array and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment in Chile, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope in Arizona, the IRAM 30m Telescope in Spain, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii, the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico and the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica.

The image produced is also a resounding blow to all forms of irrational thinking, be it the mystique of religious obscurantism or postmodernism and the claim that all “stories” are equally valid. There is in fact an objective, material reality, which is governed by physical, knowable laws.

More in-depth results are expected to follow in the coming months and years. EHT completed its latest observation campaign in March, which includes three new telescopes that will provide even better images. And now that data has been collected and released on the two main goals of the collaboration, it will explore other, even more esoteric regions of the Universe, especially the galactic-scale energetic jets produced by supermassive black holes while holding large amounts of gas and dust in them. flow. †

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