Ever Seen A Star Dance?

Artist’s impression of Schwarzschild precession, the name given to the orbit of a star around a black hole. This image captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows for the first time a star orbiting the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, just as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Photo credit: Credit: ESO/L. Calçada (April 2020)

It is not every day that we witness a star dance – and by star, I mean the astronomical kind. This image, a first for science, shows the path of a star dancing around a supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way some 26,000 light-years from the Sun. The star is one of a cluster of stars surrounding the giant, with a mass four times that of the Sun. As it sweeps towards the behemoth, its orbit changes with each turn, determining the shape of the next orbit, creating a rosette formation.

Observations of this celestial dance was made possible with a Very Large Telescope (VLT) located at the Atacama Desert in Chile. The research is led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) and took over two and a half decades of following the star in its orbit. The latest observation is also another feather in the cap for Albert Einstein, whose general theory of relativity predicts that bound orbits of one object around another is not closed or keeps the same shape at all times as in Newton’s theory, but moves forward and ‘fans out’ in a rosette-like motion.

Watch: ESO video of a star dancing around a supermassive black hole.

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