Sagittarius points the way to Galaxy Center’s Supermassive Black Hole

Many people don’t know it, but a supermassive black hole exists at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. If you’re in an area where you can see it, step outside tonight after dark, and feast your eyes upon the constellation Sagittarius. It looks just like a teapot, and is in the southern sky, just to the East of the “stinger” of Scorpius. Once you’ve adjusted your eyes, you will see this teapot (we call this an asterism) and, if you have a dark sky site, you will see the plane of the Milky Way galaxy rising up out of the “spout” of the teapot. It will look, if you’re at a dark sky site, like a white cloud rising up out of the teapot. We call this the “steam” of the teapot.

If you could look directly into the the “spout” area of the teapot, and go 27,000 light years in, you would hit the center of our galaxy. There you would find the supermassive black hole that this article is referring to. Most galaxies have them. This is another fascinating point. When I read, “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking, for the first time nearly 20 years ago, black holes were still not confirmed. Now, we not only have confirmation of them, we see supermassive black holes at the center of our galaxy, and many others. We suspect that they are at the center of almost every galaxy, though most galaxies are way too far away for us to be able to use even our largest telescopes to study the center of.

The Very Large Telescope Helps out

What the Very Large Telescope is witnessing right now, is a large gas cloud just a few times the mass of Earth being destroyed by the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. This tells us not only more about the behavior of a black hole, but also about the structure of our galaxy, and things that are nearer its center. Because of high amounts of dust, astronomers are unable to “see” directly to the center of our galaxy, in visible wavelengths. That is what our eyes and optical telescopes can see. So, they use telescopes that operate at other wavelengths in order to view what our eyes cannot. One of these kinds of telescopes that enables us to view the center of the galaxy is an infrared telescope. An infrared telescope is able to penetrate the dust, and provides us a view, just like night vision goggles do for the military, that our eyes cannot get. Pretty cool, huh?

Read the article, and if you have any questions, email me. That’s what I’m here for.

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