Hunting for the black hole in the heart of the Milky Way
29-06-2015 THE CAB IN THE MEDIA (

By Montserrat Villar, Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA)

If we could reduce the size of the Earth to that of a sugar, our planet would become a black hole. In theory, the same would happen with any object provided that we had a system capable of compressing it enough: a house, a table, myself. Below a critical size the effect of gravity will be unstoppable: no force can prevent the collapse and inevitably a black hole will form. That critical size is determined by the so-called 'Schwarschild radius' and depends solely on the mass of the object in question. That is, if the mass is known, the Schwarschild radius can be easily deduced. For the Earth it is approximately 1 centimeter, while for the Sun it is about 3 kilometers. Therefore, if the Sun were reduced to a ball of about 3 kilometers radius, nothing would prevent it from becoming a black hole.

The existence of a black hole in the center of our galaxy, the Way Lactea, was proposed in 1971 based on indirect evidence. The conclusive evidence began to accumulate around 1995 and today its existence is confirmed. How do we know?

To prove this, we need to determine how much mass is in the galactic center and how large it is. If it is less than the one corresponding to the 'Schwarchild radio', we will have the final proof. However, we can not see a black hole. Inside that radius (which coincides with the so-called black hole event horizon), the force of gravity is so intense that nothing, not even light, can escape. How to measure the mass and volume of something we can not see?





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