UCLA astronomers announce the discovery of a rare star orbiting near the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
UCLA astronomers has reportedly discovered a remarkable star that orbits the enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the first discover of its kind.
The star, known as S0-102, may eventually allow astronomers to test whether Albert Einstein’s spacetime theory holds true. Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that mass distorts space and time and therefore not only slows down the flow of time but also stretches or shrinks distances. Many supermassive black holes reside at the center of galaxies throughout the universe.
S0-102 has the shortest known orbit, say astronomers. Black holes form out of the collapse of matter to such high density that not even light can escape their gravitational pull. They cannot be seen, but their influence on nearby stars is visible and provides a signature.
In a statement released Friday, UCLA astronomers say the discovery will provide astronomers with a rare chance to examine the effects of supermassive black holes, which were recently confirmed to exist just years ago.
“I’m extremely pleased to find two stars that orbit our galaxy’s supermassive black hole in much less than a human lifetime,” said said research co-author Andrea Ghez, leader of the discovery team and a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics. “It is the tango of S0-102 and S0-2 that will reveal the true geometry of space and time near a black hole for the first time,” Ghez said. “This measurement cannot be done with one star alone.”
UCLA astronomers came across the rare pair of stars after examining a group of 3,000 or so stars in the region closest to the black hole since 1995. By measuring the motion of the objects from Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, they were able to conclude that a black hole must be influencing their orbits. Ghez noted that the Keck Observatory was key to allowing the team of astronomers to track the star and its nearby neighbor.
“The Keck Observatory has been the leader in adaptive optics for more than a decade and has enabled us to achieve tremendous progress in correcting the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere with high–angular resolution imaging,” Ghez said. “It’s really exciting to have access to the world’s largest and best telescope. It is why I came to UCLA and why I stay at UCLA.”
It remains unclear how long it will take astronomers to test the effects of the black hole. The UCLA team noted that future studies could have widespread implications that range from improving GPS to time travel.
“Today, Einstein is in every iPhone, because the GPS system would not work without his theory,” said Leo Meyer, a researcher in Ghez’s team and lead author of the study. “What we want to find out is, would your phone also work so close to a black hole? The newly discovered star puts us in a position to answer that question in the future.”
The announcement comes just weeks after NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission resulted in the discover of a number of supermassive black holes and extreme galaxies. Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe.
The research is published October 5 in the journal Science.UCLA astronomers, black hole, albert einstein, black holes <BR/>