After 16 years of research, teams of American and European scientists have compiled the most complete portrait of the gigantic black hole at the center of the Milky Way, plotting its gravity-bending mass as being equivalent to a staggering 4 million suns.
The researchers from Germany and UCLA also pinpoint the distance to the center of the galaxy at 27,000 light-years.
Neither figure differs markedly from previous estimates of the black hole's size and distance, but it is the most conclusive proof to date that our galaxy of billions of stars is indeed centered on an object of such tremendous power that it gobbles all light and matter that dares to venture into its neighborhood.
Reinhard Genzel, leader of the European team based at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, said researchers had the best evidence yet that "supermassive black holes really do exist."
Andrea Ghez, leader of the UCLA Galactic Center Group, which has been engaged in what Ghez called a "useful rivalry" with the Europeans, said the results represented a more fully developed understanding of the galaxy's center than the guesses of the past.