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UMass Amherst researchers help in discovery of Milky Way’s black hole

UMass Amherst researchers help in discovery of Milky Way’s black hole
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 3:29 PM EDT
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AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - An out of this world scientific discovery made headlines on Thursday - a massive black hole in our galaxy - and researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst were involved.

It’s called Sagittarius A-star and it has ties to western Massachusetts. Western Mass News spoke with professor of astronomy at UMass Amherst, Peter Schloerb, who along with other UMass scholars and graduate students who helped to make the discovery.

Schloerb broke down how the image was created.

“The way that the image is made is by using a network of radio telescopes spaced out over the entire Earth and we all collect signals from the black hole at the same time record the data to bring it home,” Schloerb explained.

Schloerb told us it took more than 300 researchers from 80 institutions working with a network of eight different radio telescopes around the world over the course of several years to capture and confirm this image and discovery.

“Building the telescope was a very long project. It started in the 1990′s and the telescope is located on a 1,500 foot volcano in the country of Mexico,” Schloerb explained.

Schloerb described the dish of the telescope to be the size of an Olympic swimming pool, the largest telescope of its kind in the world. He told Western Mass News that scientists believe there is a black hole at the center of nearly every galaxy, including one that UMass scientists helped discover back in 2019, but this is the first photo of a black hole in our own galaxy.

Sagittarius A-star is reported to be four million times more massive than our sun and Schloerb said the one found back in 2019 was even larger.

“…But since it’s so close to us relatively speaking, we’re able to get enough resolution to make an image,” Schloerb noted.

Schloerb described the telescope as highly sought over by astronomers, which is why the university jumped at the chance to get involved in the project.

“Historically, when this, the idea for this came up, we realized that this was an experiment that would be really good to participate in because it had the potential to really come up with some exciting scientific results,” Schloerb said.