The closest black hole (a massive one too) to our solar system is at about 24,000 light years at the center of the Milky way. Compared to the sun, it is about four million times more massive. Some recent studies suggest that this massive giant is surrounded by a cluster of stars orbiting in its strong gravitational field, and scientists are making sure that they observe data coming from those stars to once again prove that Einstein was right all the way.
An International team of scientists has tried new techniques to analyze complex data obtained from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and other telescopes over the past two decades or so. What astrophysicists and astronomers are more interested in is the data coming out from the stars orbiting the black hole at the core of the Milky Way, revealing peculiar movement that does not follow the principles of classical or Newtonian physics, instead showing the effects predicted by Einstein during the early 1990s.
Previous data from the black hole indicates a slight change in the motion of S2, one of the three stars revolving around the gigantic black hole. According to scientists the change is not too massive, only one-sixth of a degree in its orbit orientation, and only a minimal change in the orbit’s shape, but they are consistent and most probably have relativistic effects.
Andreas Eckart, from the University of Cologne, Germany, explained about the limitation of these kind of experiments done earlier, he said “all the previous relativity test performed are done with the sun and closest stars, that is 1 solar mass at maximum. Other tests were done with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, that’s a few 10s of solar masses.”
Not The First Time
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This is not the first time when large orbiting bodies are studied to prove the relativistic effects. Observations of the planet Mercury back in the 19th century illustrated clear evidences that its movements contradict the theory of gravity given by Isaac Newton.
During their study of Mercury, astronomers initially thought what they are experiencing is due to the presence of another undiscovered planet in its proximity, which they named Vulcan. In 1915, Einstein successfully illustrated that relativity could justify the deviation.
Although, Mercury’s orbital deviations proved Einstein correct, the black hole’s gravity is much more massive than that of the sun’s. This is why scientists are very eager to test out Einstein’s theory in much more intense conditions such as this.
In one year or so, the GRAVITY, one of the modern instruments installed in the VLT Interferometer, will be perfectly aligned to study the orbit of S2 as it passes by the black hole. The investigation will not only help scientists to study relativistic effects on interstellar bodies with more clarity, but may also unravel new dimensions of physics, of which our humankind is unaware of.