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Universität zu Köln
Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Fachgruppe Physik

I. Physikalisches Institut

Astronomers detect matter torn apart by black hole

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Submillimetre and infrared view of the Galactic Centre VLT and APEX team up to study flares from the black hole at the Milky Way's core

Cologne astronomers led the effort to use two different telescopes simultaneously to study the violent flares from the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way. They have detected outbursts from this region, known as Sagittarius A*, which reveal material being stretched out as it orbits in the intense gravity close to the central black hole.

The team of European and US astronomers used ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, both in Chile, to study light from Sagittarius A* at near-infrared wavelengths and the longer submillimetre wavelengths respectively. This is the first time that astronomers have caught a flare with these telescopes simultaneously. The telescopes' location in the southern hemisphere provides the best vantage point for studying the Galactic Centre.

"Observations like this, over a range of wavelengths, are really the only way to understand what's going on close to the black hole," says Andreas Eckart of the University of Cologne, who led the team.

ESO Press Release 41/08 - 18 November 2008 (cst)