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Super Telescope Finds A Blazing Black Hole At The Heart Of The Milky Way

Jul 15, 2018 11:37 PM EDT
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South Africa's ultra-powerful MeerKAT radio telescope proves its capabilities when it captures an image of a fiery black hole at the center of the galaxy.

The MeerKAT just debuted in South Africa last Friday, July 13, and it performed quite well on its first try, producing the clearest image yet of a massive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy.

A Fiery Black Hole

With the 64-dish telescope just freshly inaugurated, the researchers at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory wanted to show off its capabilities the best way possible.

"The centre of the galaxy was an obvious target: unique, visually striking and full of unexplained phenomena — but also notoriously hard to image using radio telescopes," Fernando Camilo, the chief scientist of SARAO, explains in a statement. "Although it's early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimised, we decided to go for it — and were stunned by the results."

Milky Way's center is 25,000 light-years away from the Earth, and it is often blanketed in thick clouds of gas and stellar dust, so it is difficult to detect using regular telescopes. To catch a glimpse, scientists use infrared, X-ray, or radio wavelengths instead.

MeerKAT provides the clearest look yet of the black hole located at Milky Way's mysterious center with many never-before-seen features visible in the resulting image.

Specifically, the photograph captures the filaments in the central black hole that aren't found anywhere else in the galaxy. Discovered way back in the 1980s, the origins of these long, narrow filaments are still a puzzling mystery — and scientists hope that MeerKAT's capabilities to clearly depict the Milky Way's center can finally shed more light on this.

Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Northwestern University says that the MeerKAT image is so clear that it could actually crack the three-decade riddle of the filaments. Yusef-Zadeh is one of the world's experts on these strange filamentary structures.

The MeerKAT Telescope

A decade in making, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated by Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa David Mabuza last Friday, July 13.

It consists of 64 dishes or antennas along with four receiver systems that are operating on different radio bands. Data can be processed at a speed of 275 gigabytes per second.

The incredible achievement is the crowning jewel of the country's astrological program, but it's expected to benefit the rest of the continent as well as part of the Square Kilometre Array.

"Other African partner countries will host the outer stations of the telescope during SKA Phase 2 in later years and we have signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with them to commit ourselves to grow the field of astronomy in their countries," Takalani Nemaungani, the Department of Science and Technology's chief director for the SKA and African Very Long Baseline Interferometry, explains to News24.

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