For the first time in history scientists have used a supermassive black hole’s gravitational field to confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity, a new study in Astronomy & Astrophysics reports.
To do this, a team of international researchers analyzed the black hole at the center of the Milky Way — known as Sagittarius A — and a star in its orbit known as S2.
Using a combination of technology, mathematics, and observations, they studied the pair and observed S2 move close to the black hole. During that event, the fiery body acted exactly as predicted by the theory of relativity.
“This is the second time that we have observed the close passage of S2 around the black hole in our galactic center,” said study co-author Reinhard Genzel, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, according to Science Alert. “But this time, because of much improved instrumentation, we were able to observe the star with unprecedented resolution.”
Three S-stars orbit Sagittarius A, and S2 gets extremely close to the hole every now and then. In the recent study, it moved within just 17 light-hours of the formation.
That is significant because, according to Einstein’s theory, the event should have stretched S2’s light into long wavelengths through a process known as gravitational redshifting.
While it is not easy to observe S2, high-tech telescopes analyzed the star and revealed its light did behave in that way.
The finding falls in line with other recent studies that set out — and failed — to disprove the popular theory.
However, such trials are important because if the theory ever does fail it would drastically alter the way scientists view and understand both the universe and the field of physics.
“What we hope is at some point we will see something in the galactic centre that we can’t explain with Einstein’s theory – that would be really, really exciting,” said study co-author Odele Straub, a researcher at the Paris Observatory in France, according to BBC News. “Because then we could go back to the drawing board and come up with something better.”