Earth-sized Telescope Finds Clue to Black Hole Growth

For the first time, astronomers have detected evidence of magnetic fields near Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, taking the study of black hole growth from theoretical expectation to empirical fact.

Dec. 3, 2015 (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) – A new discovery, published today in the journal Science, has greatly deepened our understanding black holes, which are believed to be the gravitational engines at the centres of most galaxies, including our own.

Using an array of telescopes that spans the globe, astronomers detected evidence of magnetic fields near Sagittarius A*, the 4.5-million-solar-mass black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

Decades of theoretical work, including enormous computer simulations, have painted a picture of how strong horizon-scale magnetic fields near the black hole contribute to its growth. Now that this international collaboration has discovered high levels of polarization in the radio emissions from Sagittarius A*, physicists have proof that these magnetic fields indeed exist.

Were these magnetic fields not there, “a lot theoretical astrophysics would have to go back to the drawing board,” says Avery Broderick, an Associate Faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, jointly appointed at the University of Waterloo.

Researchers achieved this new finding using the Event Horizon Telescope – an interconnected array of millimeter-wavelength telescopes located around the world. Together, they form an Earth-sized telescope capable of extremely high resolution, which, in the near future, will enable astronomers to image the event horizon of a black hole for the first time in human history.

“There are now enough telescopes in the array, in principle, to make images in the next couple of years,” Broderick added. “This might be the point, like the turn of the last century, when all of a sudden the puzzle pieces click into place.”

Those images will enable astrophysicists to transform our understanding of how black holes grow, how they interact with their surroundings, and even the nature of gravity.

“We are on the cusp of a true first in astronomical exploration,” says Avery Broderick. “We fully expect to have imaged a black hole’s event horizon in a matter of years. This would be an incredible accomplishment, not just for science, but humankind.”

Institut Périmètre de Physique Théorique

L'Institut Périmètre est le plus grand centre de recherche en physique théorique au monde. Fondé en 1999, cet institut indépendant vise à favoriser les percées dans la compréhension fondamentale de notre univers, des plus infimes particules au cosmos tout entier. Les recherches effectuées à l’Institut Périmètre reposent sur l'idée que la science fondamentale fait progresser le savoir humain et catalyse l'innovation, et que la physique théorique d'aujourd'hui est la technologie de demain. Situé dans la région de Waterloo, cet établissement sans but lucratif met de l'avant un partenariat public-privé unique en son genre avec entre autres les gouvernements de l'Ontario et du Canada. Il facilite la recherche de pointe, forme la prochaine génération de pionniers de la science et communique le pouvoir de la physique grâce à des programmes primés d'éducation et de vulgarisation.


Contact avec les médias,

Director of Communications & Media
519-569-7600 x4474