Science 5 min read

Stars Orbiting Supermassive Black Hole Found at the Heart of Milky Way

Artist rendering of stars orbiting a supermassive black hole | ESO | M. Parsa | L. Calçada

Artist rendering of stars orbiting a supermassive black hole | ESO | M. Parsa | L. Calçada

It was over a century ago since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity–a theory claiming that the gravitation pull of massive objects in space could distort space-time.

Before publishing the general theory of relativity, Einstein first published his theory of special relativity in 1905. In this first theory, Einstein determined that the laws of physics remain the same for all non-accelerating observers.

Albert Einstein |
Albert Einstein |

He further showed in his special relativity theory that the speed of light in a vacuum is the same no matter the speed at which an observer travels, therefore concluding that space and time were bound together in a single continuum known as space-time.

After spending ten years of studying and trying to prove his theory of special relativity, Einstein stumbled into another finding.

This time, the genius scientist realized that massive objects could distort space-time. He called this the theory of general relativity.

For years, scientists have tried to decipher the truth and reality behind Einstein’s space-time theory. It has become a popular research study among astronomers trying to make sense of time warp and its potential existence.

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Stars Orbiting ‘Supermassive’ Black Hole may Hold the key to Einstein’s Theory

Now, a discovery that lies in the far away region of our galaxy may possibly hold the key to solving the general theory of relativity.

Some 26,000 light-years away from Earth, at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, scientists found a ‘supermassive’ black hole with a mass that is considered to be over 4 million times that of our Sun. What made this discovery extra special was the stars accurately recorded by astronomers orbiting the black hole.

Apparently, all results of the studies conducted by the scientists suggested one thing alone: Einstein was probably right all along!

While Newtonian gravity predicted that celestial bodies would orbit one another due to gravitational force in proportion to their respective mass, Einstein’s general theory of relativity suggests that gravity was more complex than that due to space and time warps.

After more than a century, researchers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) of the European Organisation for Astronomical Research have investigated whether the theory would hold up in the location of the most intense gravitational forces in the galaxy–the Sagittarius A*.

The Sagittarius A* and its Monster Black Hole?

Sagittarius A* is found at the center of the Milky Way, near the border of the constellation Sagittarius and Scorpius. Apparently, Sagittarius A* is part of a far larger astronomical feature known as Sagittarius A and is said to be the location of a supermassive black hole.

Sagitarrius A* |
Sagitarrius A* |

In a study published by German and Czech astronomers in the Astrophysical Journal, they claimed that new analysis techniques had been applied to current observations that were made by European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) and other telescopes over the course of the past 20 years.

During their investigation, the astronomers observed that one of the three stars in orbit around Sagittarius A* doesn’t follow the predictions of the Newtonian gravity.

The star, known as S2, is a 15-solar-mass star that circles Sagittarius A* in an elliptical orbit that takes approximately 16 years to be completed. Once in its every orbit, S2 passes extremely close to the black hole. According to the researchers, it passes at a distance of around 17 light-hours or around 120 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth.

It appears that the proximity is affecting the trajectory of S2’s orbit around the supermassive black hole. It causes a slight irregularity in each loop that researchers cannot reconcile with Newtonian physics, but they can match up with Einstein’s general relativity theory.

Andreas Eckart, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement to Gizmodo:

“Right now, this is basically a consistency test. We probed the data with what we expected from relativity and saw very strong indications here that we got the expected answer.”

While the researchers believed that their discovery was an important step, they claimed that there are so much more to learn and Einstein’s theory could still be proven wrong. Eckart further said:

“To test whether or not there’s a violation you need to have a much much better signal to noise ratio. Whether that will lead to a modification, I cannot say.”

Scientists are now looking forward to 2018 where S2 is expected to be on its next closest pass to Sagittarius A*. This will give them a better glimpse of the orbital arcs using advanced Gravity instruments that will measure the star’s movement more precisely-something that scientists from 20 years ago do not have.

Do you think that scientists are now a step closer to uncovering the truth behind space and time warp? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Rechelle Ann Fuertes

Rechelle is the current Managing Editor of Edgy. She's an experienced SEO content writer, researcher, social media manager, and visual artist. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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