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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    The stars, our destination

    Humanity’s understanding of the universe expanded dramatically last week. On May 9, NASA released the infrared test images of the Large Magellanic Cloud, taken after the final alignment of the James Webb space telescope’s golden mirror segments.

    Having achieved its most important benchmarks, the James Webb telescope — now 1 million miles away from Earth - will begin transmitting unprecedented images of our universe this summer after instruments on board are checked and calibrated. There will be much to celebrate when the first images of a yet unidentified area of space are revealed to the public in July.

    If that weren’t enough news from space last week, humanity also got its first look at the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The black hole, known as Sagittarius A, is 27,000 light-years from Earth on one of the spiral arms of our Milky Way galaxy. The images were captured by the collective effort of 300 scientists, 80 institutions, and eight radio telescopes working in tandem under the name Event Horizon Telescope project (EHT).

    The EHT confirms astronomical theories about the existence of the black hole at the center of our galaxy exerting the necessary gravitational heft to hold our cosmic neighborhood with its billions of stars together.

    The image confirming the existence of this black hole consists of images of nearby gas and light that Sagittarius A hasn’t swallowed. The gas forms a galactic halo around the black hole from which light can’t escape. This black hole, only the second that we’ve ever recorded, is where the center of the galaxy is believed to be.

    Sagittarius A appears to be a very stable “gentle” black hole by the standards of more destructive black holes believed to be populating our galaxy and the universe beyond. The EHT project, like the Webb Telescope, will continue gathering information for decades. Every day that scientists pore over the information coming in from the furthest corners of the cosmos brings us closer to understanding how our universe operates.

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