It all began with the discovery of Sagittarius A*, a persistent radio source located at the Galactic Center of the Milky Way that turned out to be a supermassive black hole (SMBH). This discovery was accompanied by the realization that SMBHs exist at the heart of most galaxies, which account for their energetic nature and the hypervelocity jets extending from their center. Since then, scientists have been trying to get a better look at Sag A* and its surroundings to learn more about the role SMBHs play in the formation and evolution of our galaxy.
This has been the goal of the GRAVITY collaboration, an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists that have been studying the core of the Milky Way for the past thirty years. Using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), this team obtained the deepest and sharpest images to date of the region around Sag A*. These observations led to the most precise measurement yet of the black hole’s mass and revealed a never-before-seen star that orbits close to it.
The New Horizons spacecraft has been speeding away from Earth since it launched in 2006. Scientists using the Alice UV imaging spectrograph on board New Horizons, have been patiently but sporadically gathering data during those 15 years, but also waiting to get far enough away from the Sun to make a specific measurement: the brightness of the Lyman-alpha background of the Milky Way. Until now, this had never been measured accurately.
Astronomers have found a smaller, stellar-mass black hole lurking in a nearby satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way. The black hole has been hiding in a star cluster named NGC 1850, which is one of the brightest star clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The black hole is 160,000 light-years away from Earth, and is estimated to be about 11 times the mass of our Sun.
The center of the Milky Way is a mysterious place. Astronomers think there’s a supermassive black hole there, though it could be dark matter instead. The region is densely packed with stars, dominated by red giants. And because of all the dust between Earth and the galactic center, we can’t see anything with visible light, ultraviolet light, or low-energy x-rays.
But we can detect radio waves, and there are some unexplained ones coming from the center of the galaxy, and adding to the mystery.
If we could, we might be able to look up into the sky and see a tunnel of rope-like filaments made of radio waves. The structure would be about 1,000 light-years long and would be about 350 light-years away.
This tunnel explains two of the brightest radio features in the sky.
Gas from the intergalactic medium constantly rains down on galaxies, fueling continued star formation. New research has shown that this gas is not evenly mixed, and stars are not equal across the galaxy. This result means that solar systems are not the same within the Milky Way.
If it were’t for an enormous halo of dark matter enveloping our galaxy, the spin-rate of our central bar should stay pretty constant. But researchers have recently inferred that it has slowed down by almost 25% since its formation, a clear sign of the presence of dark matter.
Using a new observatory, a team of Chinese astronomers have found over a dozen sources of ultra-high energy cosmic rays. And those sources aren’t from some distant, exotic corner of the cosmos. They come from our own backyard.
A galaxy’s main business is star formation. And when they’re young, like youth everywhere, they keep themselves busy with it. But galaxies age, evolve, and experience a slow-down in their rate of star formation. Eventually, galaxies cease forming new stars altogether, and astronomers call that quenching. They’ve been studying quenching for decades, yet much about it remains a mystery.
A new study based on the IllustrisTNG simulations has found a link between a galaxy’s quenching and its stellar size.