2020 keeps throwing up surprises, and in the latest update, scientists have discovered that we’re 2,000 light-years closer to oblivion than they thought.

The ‘oblivion’ in question is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. It sits right at the centre of the Milky Way, and has a mass around 4 million times larger than that of our own Sun.

Only 2,000 light-years separate us from being devoured by the Milky Way's center supermassive black hole
Only 2,000 light-years separate us from being devoured by the Milky Way’s center supermassive black hole

There’s no need to panic, though. We’re not zooming straight towards it, we’ve just got a more accurate understanding of how the Milky Way is mapped out, and it turns out we’re sat a bit closer than scientists initially believed.

The discovery is thanks to a Japanese radio astronomy project known as VERA, which has been using telescopic data to create a more accurate map of the Milky Way. As part of this project, VERA has recently concluded that the Sagittarius A* is 25,800 light-years from Earth – 2,000 light-years closer than initially thought. Mapping distances between objects in a 3-dimensional galaxy is notoriously tough, so these kind of adjustments are actually a positive sign that our knowledge of the Milky Way is improving.

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Most of us might hear the words ‘supermassive black hole’ and immediately think of that Muse song from over a decade ago, but Sagittarius A* has fascinated astrophysicists since it was first discovered almost 50 years ago. Scientists only officially confirmed it was a black hole two years ago, with two astronomers responsible for the identification awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics earlier this year.

As well as pinpointing our proximity to Sagittarius A*, VERA has also discovered that Earth is moving slightly faster than we believed. The project has calculated that we’re zipping around our galaxy’s centre at 141 miles per second – 5 miles per second faster than older models suggested. The new discoveries made by VERA were published earlier this year in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.

Black Hole
Black Hole

All this is to say that there’s plenty about Sagittarius A* that we’re still to uncover, and that includes its relationship with our Solar System. It’s yet another reminder of just how much of our galaxy, let alone the universe, still remains a mystery.

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