Galactic centre – Stars orbiting super massive black hole


Credit: Keck/UCLA Galactic Centre Group

Click on image above to see stars in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy orbit a suspected supermassive black hole at its core.

The animation tracks the position of a number of stars which have been observed between 1995 and 2011. In this time, it can be seen that star SO-02 for example has completed a full orbit of the suspected black hole and therefore only has an orbital period of just under 16 years.

The stars have elliptical orbits and follow the Keplerian law of planetary motion which allows the mass of the super massive black hole (shown as a white star in the animation) to be determined. This has since been calculated at 4 million times the mass of our Sun.


Credit: ESO/S. Gillessen et al.

The same region of the very central parts of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, this time as observed in the near-infrared with the NACO instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope located in the Atacama desert in Chile.