What to expect after the discovery of the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy?

By Julio Garcia G. / Science Journalist

One of the most interesting consequences of the General Theory of Relativity of Albert Einsteinwhich describes the inexorable relationship between time, mass and gravity, is the existence of black holes.

However, the German physicist, born in Ulm in 1879, was paradoxically not completely convinced that the curvature of space-time, a product of the concentration of matter in a specific place, was so powerful to generate black holesa term that, by the way, was coined by the American physicist John Archibald Wheeler in the 1960s.

Einstein’s denial about the existence of these peculiar objects can be evidenced through an article that he himself published in 1939 in the magazine Annals of Mathematics from Princeton Universityan institution in which he worked until his death in 1955, after emigrating to the United States in 1932.

That Einstein himself did not reliably believe in the consequences that a Theory that he himself conceived from intuition, imagination and reasonis not extraordinary because, in most cases, reality acts under rules and principles that always end up surprising us for their creativity and originality.

As if nature were, in the end, smarter than ussimple inhabitants of a small blue planet in a typical spiral galaxy made up of billions of stars.

American physicist John Archibald Wheeler. Image: Delphi Pages.

The reason for remembering Einstein through what has been said above is because on May 12, the team made up of more than three hundred astronomers from the Event Horizon Telescopereleased the first image of the supermassive black hole located in the center of our galaxy –in Sagittarius A– about 26,000 light-years from Earth.

The photograph, which looks a bit blurry compared to the sharper image obtained from the supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 in 2019has already gone around the world and the news has been reported by most of the media.

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The lack of sharpness in the image is due to the fact that, as explained by researcher José Luis Gómez from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in an article published in the newspaper El País, “while in M87 [el gas que rodea al agujero negro] it takes weeks to go aroundin SgrA* [Sagitario A], about 1000 times smallerIt only takes minutes.”

Therefore, both the presence of gas and the size of the black hole itself, smaller than Sagittarius A, produced that the image was more difficult to get despite the fact that it is at a much closer distance from Earth in relation to M87.

Comparison between the supermassive black hole in M87 and the Sagittarius A star. Image: European Southern Observatory

However: What to expect from photography beyond what it represents in terms of the technological triumph of humanity and the emotion that the discovery itself gives us?

Well, in addition to once again confirming the General Theory of Relativity – which is no small thing – the discovery of the black hole in Sagittarius A could lead us to a better understanding of the force of gravity (one of the four fundamental forces of the universe), the evolution of galaxies and also the formation of quasars.

These last ones –the quasars– they are extremely bright objectsperhaps the brightest in the known universe, which are found in the center of newborn galaxies and get their energy from supermassive black holes. Besides, They produce a huge amount of electromagnetic energy and visible light.

The closest quasar to Earth is about 780 million light years. Through optical telescopes these objects can be seen as points of light that twinkle in the sky.

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However, using more specialized instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Telescope, it can be seen how they produce energy in almost the entire field of the electromagnetic spectrumsuch as radiofrequency, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet light, X-rays and even gamma rays.

Comparison between the size of the two supermassive black holes discovered by the Event Horizon Telescope: M87 and Sagittarius A. Image: Dr. James O’Donoghue (@physicsJ)

Regarding the relationship between quasars and supermassive black holes, an investigation was recently published in the Nature magazine which indicates that, during the first billion years of the universe, the energetic winds blowing off supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies were much more frequent and powerful than those observed in today’s galaxies.

Besides, those winds were so strong that managed to retard or slow down the growth of supermassive black holes.

The discovery of this could be achieved thanks, precisely, to the observation of thirty quasars that were observed through the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

According to one of the researchers who participated in the work, Manuela Bischetti from the University of Trieste, “unlike what we observe in the universe closest to us, we discovered that the winds from black holes in the young universe [también llamado universo temprano] they are very frequent, have high speeds of up to 17 percent of the speed of light, and inject large amounts of energy into their host galaxy.”

And if that was not enough, about half of the quasars observed in this research show black hole windswhich are much more frequent and up to twenty times more powerful than the winds known in the quasars of the closest universe, that is, when it was around 4,000 million years old.

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All this means that the most in-depth study of quasars could help solve the enigma surrounding not only the formation of galaxies but also the size of supermassive black holes depending on the amount of energy and matter that they are capable of engulfing. Unfortunately our galaxy, the Milky Way, does not have quasars at its center, although it may have had them in the past.

Paranal Observatory in Chile. Image: European Southern Observatory.

Another important idea to mention is: what happens to the matter that falls into a black hole? Is there a certainty that all the existing matter in our galaxy will one day fall into the interior of Sagittarius A?

It seems to me that the answers to these questions at the moment no one knows. But fortunately there are specialists who dedicate their whole life to answer this and other questions through the instruments provided by science and technology.

On future research on black holes (on their formation and evolution) scientists will have to continue to use theoretical physics and mathematics as fundamental toolsbut also, thanks to the presence of telescopes such as the Event Horizon, it will be easier to verify or refute what is written on paper.

On the other hand, I consider that the time that represented the iconic figure of Albert Einstein as that of a scientist working tirelessly in his office smoking a pipe Until you find the best answer to your theory, you’re done.

Now science, and especially physics, are carried out through collaboration between people from different fields. Without the collaborative spirit, I believe that it is impossible to obtain great results in the future because, to a greater extent, people of science require imposing and complex infrastructures–very expensive–, like the great particle accelerator at CERN, or the radio telescopes that are interconnected with each other forming a single telescope, to carry out their work.


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