At the center of our galaxy, the little corner of the universe we all call home, sits a supermassive black hole — a celestial body so massive that light and time bend bend in its wake. It has the mass of about four million suns and reached temperatures in the trillions of degrees. It’s a mess, but it’s ours.
And now, we can actually see what it looks like, thanks to some teamwork from observatories all across the world — a collective known as the Event Horizon Telescope. The image they captured looks a little like a bagel — the effect of light bending around the black hole since nothing can go through it.
Believe it or not, on the intergalactic scale, our supermassive black hole in our Milky Way is relatively tame. The first photo ever taken of any supermassive black hole, the Messier 87, is several thousand times larger. That photo was also captured by the Event Horizon team, and released three years ago. But this new image is notable, since this black hole is our neighbor, cosmically speaking. It’s only about 27,000 light years away.
Supermassive black holes remain mysterious. They’re objects of literally unfathomable density millions or even billions more dense than our sun, with a gravitational pull virtually nothing can escape. They remained mostly theoretical ever since Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity but, in recent years, celestial observation has given us more and more tangible evidence of their existence. Scientists now believe that many supermassive black holes exist at or near the center of galaxies in the universe, though the question of why remains pure speculation. Maybe God just thought they looked cool there.