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A star in a 15.2-year orbit around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way

Nature volume 419, pages 694696 (17 October 2002) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Many galaxies are thought to have supermassive black holes at their centres1—more than a million times the mass of the Sun. Measurements of stellar velocities2,3,4,5,6,7 and the discovery of variable X-ray emission8 have provided strong evidence in favour of such a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, but have hitherto been unable to rule out conclusively the presence of alternative concentrations of mass. Here we report ten years of high-resolution astrometric imaging that allows us to trace two-thirds of the orbit of the star currently closest to the compact radio source (and massive black-hole candidate) Sagittarius A*. The observations, which include both pericentre and apocentre passages, show that the star is on a bound, highly elliptical keplerian orbit around Sgr A*, with an orbital period of 15.2 years and a pericentre distance of only 17 light hours. The orbit with the best fit to the observations requires a central point mass of (3.7 ± 1.5) × 106 solar masses (M). The data no longer allow for a central mass composed of a dense cluster of dark stellar objects or a ball of massive, degenerate fermions.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the teams who developed and constructed the near-infrared camera CONICA and the adaptive optics system NAOS. We are grateful to all the instrument scientists and European Southern Observatory staff involved in the commissioning of NAOS/CONICA for observations of the Galactic Centre. We thank C.H. Townes and J. Kormendy for comments. We thank D. Gudehus for assistance with the Binary-Star Combined Solution Program.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. *Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstrasse, 85748 Garching, Germany

    • R. Schödel
    • , T. Ott
    • , R. Genzel
    • , R. Hofmann
    •  & M. Lehnert
  2. †Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • R. Genzel
  3. ‡I. Physikalisches Institut, Universität zu Köln, Zülpicher Strasse 77, 50937 Köln, Germany

    • A. Eckart
    •  & N. Mouawad
  4. §The Weizmann Institute of Science, Faculty of Physics, PO Box 26, Rehovot 76100, Israel

    • T. Alexander
  5. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics MS42, 60 Garden St, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • M. J. Reid
  6. ¶Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl 17, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

    • R. Lenzen
    •  & M. Hartung
  7. #Observatoire de Paris - Section de Meudon, 5 Place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon Cédex, France

    • F. Lacombe
    • , D. Rouan
    •  & E. Gendron
  8. Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aerospatiales, BP 72, 92322 Chatillon cédex, France

    • G. Rousset
  9. **Laboratoire d'Astrophysique, Observatoire de Grenoble, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble cédex 9, France

    • A.-M. Lagrange
  10. ††European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, D-85748 Garching, Germany

    • W. Brandner
    • , N. Ageorges
    • , C. Lidman
    • , A. F. M. Moorwood
    • , J. Spyromilio
    •  & N. Hubin
  11. ‡‡Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

    • K. M. Menten

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to R. Schödel.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01121

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