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Faye Flam

Behind the Amazing Photo of the Milky Way’s Very Own Black Hole

Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, has fascinated cosmologists for years. Now we’ve got pics.

Nice to see you.  

Nice to see you.  

Photographer: NASA/Getty Images

One reason scientists are so fascinated with black holes is that they grab hold of the fabric of time and space, slowing time to a crawl as matter swirls toward a point of no return. The fact that black holes play tricks with time was what captured the imagination of Lia Medeiros, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, and part of the team that used an array of eight telescopes to create the first image of matter swirling around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

She was still a high school student when she first read that black holes distort time — and decided to find a way to make studying them her life’s work. Not only does time slow down near a supermassive black hole, but theoretically, inside it, time and space would somehow switch places. Efforts to understand black holes could lead scientists to a more encompassing understanding of the rest of our universe, and of its still-mysterious origin.