The Tech Herald

Gargantuan black hole lurks at centre of galaxy

by Stevie Smith - Dec 11 2008, 18:00

Astronomers confirm hulking black hole at the centre of the galaxy. Image: Christopher/Flickr.

Sounding like something plucked from a Hollywood science fiction blockbuster, stargazing astronomers have this week confirmed the existence of a huge black hole swirling ominously at the very centre of the Milky Way.

Boasting a diameter of approximately 14.4 million miles, the black hole has been studied for some 16 years, with researchers most recently utilising two powerful telescopes in Chile in order to more accurately gauge its positioning and size.

According to Richard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, the black hole was located and confirmed by monitoring the orbits of 28 stars at the centre of the galaxy, many of which apparently displayed random movements similar to a swarm of bees.

Watching astronomers had to track the movement of the galaxy’s core stars as the pull of black holes is so strong that not even light is able to escape, which means observing them directly is impossible.

This latest discovery provides “the best empirical evidence that super-massive black holes do really exist,” said Genzel in a CNN report.

In terms of physical comparisons when attempting to visualise the sprawling 14.4 million miles of our home galaxy occupied by the space beast, planet Earth has a diameter of just 7,926 miles, while the sun has a diameter of 870,000 miles.

Ongoing investigation into the Milky Way’s central black hole should help provide scientists with better understanding concerning gravity and the creation of galaxies.

While full details surrounding the hulking black hole are expected to be published by German and American astronomy teams in the January edition of Astrophysical Journal, the discovery has a reported mass some four million times that of our own star and is around 27 thousand light years away.

Considering that 27 thousand light years is the equivalent of 158 thousand, million, million, million miles, it’s fairly safe to say that it’s highly unlikely the black hole – despite its considerable size and massive gravitational pull – will pose a threat to us any time soon, if ever.

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