PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Black Hole Seen in Closest Look Ever

black hole picture
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September 4, 2008—A supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way has wound up in the crosshairs of a virtual telescope spanning 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometers).

Ground-based radio telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, and California aimed at Sagittarius A*—also called A-star—obtained the image (above, a previous picture of the black hole).

The star is believed to mark the position of a black hole four million times the sun's mass.

Though unproven, there is strong evidence for the existence of black holes.

(Related: "Hundreds of "Rogue" Black Holes May Roam Milky Way" [January 10, 2008].)

The black hole companion of Sagittarius A may be shunning the limelight now, but Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at MITs Haystack Observatory who led a recent study on the object, said it can't hide much longer.

Doeleman and his team say the source of the radiation is probably a disk of matter swirling toward the black hole, or a high-speed jet of matter being ejected from it.

"Now that we've shown it can be done, it's just a matter of time before we'll have very detailed information about what happens as matter is drawn near to the black hole and disappears forever," Doeleman said.

Their research appears tomorrow in the journal Nature.

Anne Minard

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