Here's How Stars Orbit Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole - Nerdist
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Here’s How Stars Orbit Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole

Black holes continue to amaze us for an endless number of reasons. The celestial objects are furious feasters of gas and they send ripples through the fabric of spacetime. Now, in another awe-inspiring look at black holes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released an animation showing how stars orbit around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. And the lightless region’s tug on space is palpable.

The above animation is based on images the space agency captured using its Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) array in Chile earlier this year. Those images showed stars S29 and S55 orbiting around Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.

A visualization of stars orbiting around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
ESO/GRAVITY collaboration/L. Calçada

Although the animation is brief, it gives an enlightening look at how the stars orbit the supermassive black hole. The animation of the stars’ orbital paths is actually overlaid on the real images the VLTI captured, appearing as relatively grainy in the center of the video.

As the stars orbit the supermassive black hole they give some sense of its physical boundaries. Like planets around the Sun, the stars orbit the ultra-compact object. They swing around the dark, mysterious body that’s four million times as massive as the Sun. Also in the images at the center of the video are two fainter stars, S62 and S300. The latter of which ESO says it only discovered thanks to this year’s batch of VLTI images.

Images of stars orbiting around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
ESO/GRAVITY collaboration

Along with this incredible animation, astronomers have also eyed other Sagittarius A* anomalies. In 2019, for example, astronomers using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii observed the supermassive black hole give off a flash. The astronomers said at the time that it was unclear what caused the flash. Although some believe it was the black hole “feasting” on nearby dust clouds. S29 and S55, we can only assume, will meet the same fate at some point.

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