Key Takeaways:

  1. The supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), at the center of our galaxy is 2,000 light-years closer to Earth than previously believed.
  2. Our solar system orbits the galactic center faster than initially estimated, hurtling at a speed of 510,000 mph.
  3. The VERA Experiment in Japan, utilizing advanced telescopic technology, played a pivotal role in this discovery.
  4. This revelation provides crucial data for understanding the Milky Way’s structure and has implications for dark matter research.
  5. The study emphasizes the need to reevaluate fundamental astronomical parameters for a more accurate comprehension of our cosmic environment.


The European Southern Observatory’s GRAVITY instrument revealed clumps of gas swirling around just outside the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Here, a visualization of that orbiting gas. (Image credit: ESO/Gravity Consortium/L. Calçada)

Recent research out of Japan has revolutionized our understanding of the universe’s inner workings. The supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), nestled at the heart of our galaxy, is much closer to Earth than previously thought. The discrepancy amounts to a staggering 2,000 light-years, revealing an unexpected proximity to this cosmic behemoth.

While this revelation may evoke images of Earth hurtling towards the gaping maw of a black hole, fear not. Our planet remains at a safe distance, approximately 25,800 light-years from Sgr A*. This finding arises from the VERA Experiment (VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry), a groundbreaking initiative focused on unraveling the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.

Astrometry, the scientific field behind this breakthrough, involves precise measurements of stars’ sizes, positions, and orbital velocities. These measurements are essential since a direct snapshot of the Milky Way is unattainable from within it. Instead, the data allows scientists to construct detailed maps shedding light not only on our galaxy but potentially the broader universe.

Tomoya Hirota, the leader of the data analysis team in VERA, highlighted the capability of the experiment, stating they can now measure distances of stars located up to 30,000 light-years from our solar system. Achieving such precision involves employing four Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) telescopes in Japan, which collaborate to mimic the effect of a colossal telescope approximately 1,400 miles in diameter.

To put this resolution into perspective, it’s akin to discerning a penny’s position on the moon’s surface. However, VERA is designed to observe objects much farther away. For instance, it can distinguish the annual positional shift of a star within an angle 1/360,000,000 of the distance between two tick marks on a protractor.

Through this meticulous process, the researchers assembled a catalog of 99 Milky Way objects, culminating in a position and velocity map. This map not only disclosed our location within the Milky Way but also enabled the determination of its three-dimensional velocity and spatial structure. This revelation unveiled that Sagittarius A* is not 27,000 but rather 2,000 light-years from Earth, a significant revision of the previous estimate from 1985.

Moreover, the study revealed that our solar system is hurtling through space at an astounding 510,000 mph. This revised speed, faster than previously recorded, stems from advanced technology and corrections for atmospheric distortions that plagued earlier measurements.

The implications of these findings extend far beyond the celestial dance of stars. They hold the potential to address longstanding mysteries in astronomy. By refining our understanding of the Milky Way’s structure, scientists can now estimate the distribution and density of dark matter surrounding our solar system. This knowledge might even influence the search for elusive dark matter particles, potentially making them more detectable than previously envisaged.

As the VERA researchers prepare to delve even deeper into the heart of the Milky Way, each measurement brings us closer to unraveling the intricacies of our cosmic abode. This discovery underscores the ever-evolving nature of our understanding of the universe and the critical role that technological advancements play in this ongoing cosmic journey.

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