Learn how astronomers determine whether a supermassive black hole lies at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, in this media gallery featuring a video from NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse and images from the European Southern Observatory and NASA. In the video, astronomer Andrea Ghez describes how the Keck Observatory, which integrates an adaptive optics system to adjust for atmospheric distortion, has provided the sharpest images ever obtained of stars orbiting closest to our galaxy’s center. The changing positions of the stars have been tracked since 1995 and have revealed stellar orbits of incredibly high speeds. These extremely fast orbits indicate that the stars are orbiting something with a mass 4 million times that of the Sun—a supermassive black hole. Graphics illustrate how adaptive optics technology works, and an animation shows the extremely fast stellar orbits around the galactic center. Additional images in the gallery provide context for the scale of the Milky Way and our solar system’s position within it. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.
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