Star seen 'dancing' around supermassive black hole proves Einstein was right

Star seen 'dancing' around supermassive black hole proves Einstein was right

Star seen 'dancing' around supermassive black hole proves Einstein was right

In the ongoing effort to find out where, when, and even if Einstein's general theory of relativity (GR) stops applying to the physical world, scientists have encountered yet another milestone: They've found that a star "dancing" around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy does indeed obey the laws laid out by Einstein's theory of gravity.

When S2 is at its closest approach to the black hole, it is hurtling through space at 3pc of the speed of light, completing an orbit once every 16 years.

But scientists can now confirm that the orbit of the star, called S2, is shaped like a rosette, which is supported by the physicist general theory of relativity.

This simulation shows the orbits of stars very close to the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way. The precession movement is exaggerated for easier viewing.

"After following the star in its orbit for over two and a half decades, our exquisite measurements robustly detect S2's Schwarzschild precession in its path around Sagittarius A*", said astrophysicist Stefan Gillessen of MPE.

The motion Genzel mentioned, called Schwarzschild precession, describes a sort of rotation in an object's elliptical orbit.

The study was conducted by European Southern Observatory (ESO) scientists using the ESO's Very Large Telescope, which is located atop a mountain at almost 2,700 metres above sea level in Chile's Atacama desert.

One of these stars, named S2, sweeps towards the supermassive black hole and gets within 20bn km of it on the star's closest approach.

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Sagittarius A* is the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Mind you, we already knew this is true: Mercury's orbit around the Sun precesses due to this effect, though it's very small. Essentially, the black hole's intense gravity warps space-time and causes S2's orbit to shift.

Sagittarius A* is located 26,000 light years away from the Sun, and is estimated to be four million solar masses.

The findings appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. Over many iterations the star's orbit comes to resemble a rosette or a spirograph.

The theory also allowed them to understand more about the general area at the center of our galaxy, which is hard for us to see from such a distance since it's clouded by gas and dust in our galaxy. Over the course of 27 years, the astronomers made more than 330 measurements of S2's position and velocity using multiple VLT instruments. In 2018, the GRAVITY Collaboration announced that the way S2's light stretched as it came close to Sagittarius A* was confirmation of an effect predicted by general relativity in one of its most extreme tests yet.

"If we are lucky, we might capture stars close enough that they actually feel the rotation, the spin, of the black hole", said Andreas Eckart from Cologne University, one of the lead scientists of the project.

It also tells us about the environment around the black hole.

General relativity has been confirmed time and time again, so no one expected this to be the nail in its coffin.

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