SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Astronomers in Chile using one of the world’s largest telescopes have found a star “dancing” around a black hole in the Milky Way just as Albert Einstein might have predicted more than a century ago.
Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published in 1915, is a foundation of modern physics. It has long helped scientists understand the forces of gravity.
But Thursday’s announcement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental group of European astronomers that operates in Chile, proves the theory applies even to a star some 26,000 light years from the Sun.
Nearly 30 years of measurements, ESO scientists said in a statement, allowed them to follow the star as it traced a rosette-shaped orbit around the “supermassive” black hole in the Milky Way. Their discovery proved Einstein, and not his predecessor Isaac Newton, was right. Newton believed it would travel in an ellipse-like pattern.
“This long-sought-after result was made possible by increasingly precise measurements over nearly 30 years, which have enabled scientists to unlock the mysteries of the behemoth lurking at the heart of our galaxy,” the observatory said in a statement.
The discovery also provides further evidence of the existence of a black hole called Sagittarius A*, which is believed to have 4 million times the mass of the Sun, the statement said.
The ESO’s Very Large Telescope, pivotal in the finding, sits atop a mountain at nearly 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) in Chile’s vast and sparsely populated Atacama desert.
The region’s low humidity and smooth airflow create unrivaled visibility for the high-tech telescopes that scientists use to shed light on the formation of the universe and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
In the past 30 years, Chile has carved out a niche as the global hub for observational astronomy.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Richard Chang