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The black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is captured in an image

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

On social media lately, have you seen that picture, what looks like a fuzzy, orange doughnut? It's an image that astronomers are celebrating over. It's the massive supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Astronomers have long known that something weird lurks at the heart of the Milky Way. There, the stars whiz about, apparently influenced by the gravity of some giant, a mystery object 4 million times more massive than our sun. It seemed like a black hole. And scientists now have an image that proves it.

KATIE BOUMAN: I think it's just super exciting. I mean, what's more cool than seeing the black hole in the center of our own Milky Way?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Katie Bouman of Caltech is part of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, a team of hundreds of scientists around the world working with radio telescopes to peer at the center of our galaxy. What they got was a picture showing a blurry, orange ring. There's hot gases swirling around a darkness that contains the unseeable black hole, which, of course, swallows everything around it, including light. But it looks like this black hole is a slow eater. Michael Johnson works at the Center for Astrophysics Harvard-Smithsonian. He says, if this black hole was a person...

MICHAEL JOHNSON: It would consume a single grain of rice every million years.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: One researcher who spent decades studying this black hole is Feryal Ozel of the University of Arizona. At a press conference, she said it had always felt sort of like having a remote virtual friend.

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FERYAL OZEL: I kind of had a idea in my head about what it looked like. We were online chatting. And then I was like - oh, you're real, huh? - meeting in person. So it's a very nice feeling.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: A few years ago, this team captured a similar image of a different black hole. That one was much more massive and in a distant galaxy. The researchers say they now want to switch from taking just still images to making movies of black holes in action.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.