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Phil Plait @BadAstronomer
, 10 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
1/n This is quite seriously one of the most jaw-dropping observations I’ve ever written about:

Astronomers have detected material *just* over the edge of a black hole’s Point Of No Return.…
2/n Before I mention a thing or three about it here, I’ll note that the lead image is a *simulation* based on the observations. Don’t want to confuse people so I’m being up front. [P.S. Credit goes to ESO/Gravity Consortium/L. Calçada; link in the article]
3/n When I first heard the news, I figured the stuff had been detected indirectly. Maybe some effect on dust farther out, or an odd relativistic effect.

Nope. The motion was detected *directly*. In other words: They. Saw. The. Dust. Clouds. Move.
4/n This shocked me when I read it. The black hole sits in the center of our Milky Way, 260 *quadrillion* kilometers away. The dust is only 100 million km away from it. That’s a tiny, tiny separation we’re seeing from a vast, vast distance.
5/n The angle between them is so small it breaks my brain. It’s measured in microarcseconds. It’s like looking at the Moon and cleanly seeing two astronauts standing next to each other. The technology behind this is incredible.
6/n They could directly see the infrared light from the dust cloud near the black hole in their data. Over the course of a few minutes they saw it physically move as it orbited.

How? Because that material is moving at 30% OF THE SPEED OF LIGHT.
7/n Sorry to shout. But that’s *fast*. It’s 90,000 kilometers per second. Per *second*.

Wanna fly from LA to NYC at that speed? It’ll take 0.06 seconds. You could make 8 round trips like that in one second. You could get to the Moon in four seconds at that speed.
8/n It’s 300 *million* kilometers per hour. The gravity of the black hole is so fierce it grabs that material and flings it around so fast that you need General Relativity to describe its motion. That’s what that simulation shows, BTW; the light getting distorted by gravity.
9/n It’s the most detailed observation of material around black hole ever seen. And yet the Event Horizon Telescope should do better when it’s done setting up shop. A collection of ‘scopes around the world, all aimed at that same black hole. What will it see?
10/10 All of this is detailed in my article. I just wanted to make sure y’all knew just how phenomenal this is. I am in awe of what humans can do when we channel our energy toward curiosity and understanding.…

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