Astronomers just captured a cool ring of interstellar gas surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Scientists used Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to image a never-seen-before disk of cool, interstellar gas surrounding the Milky Way’s Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole.

This will help astronomers better understand the accretion disk swirling around and into the black hole.

The gas within this disk experiences so much friction that it can reach 18 million degrees Fahrenheit (10 million degrees Celsius).

The center of the Milky Way is about 26,000 light-years from Earth. The supermassive black hole there is 4 million times more massive than the Sun.

This region is brimming with roving stars, interstellar dust clouds, and a large reservoir of both hot and colder gases.

During the analyses, the researchers focused on wavelengths of light given off by hot ionized hydrogen gas. The gas could stretch all the way from the heart of the galaxy to Earth, with very little loss of these light signals along the way.

ALMA image of the disk of cool hydrogen gas flowing around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The colors represent the motion of the gas relative to Earth: the red portion is moving away, so the radio waves detected by ALMA are slightly stretched, or shifted, to the “redder” portion of the spectrum; the blue color represents gas moving toward Earth, so the radio waves are slightly scrunched, or shifted, to the “bluer” portion of the spectrum. The crosshair represents the location of the black hole. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), E.M. Murchikova; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

They detected a disk of cool gas about 20,000 times the diameter of Sgr A*. Estimations show the disk of gas was about one-tenth the mass of Jupiter, or about 30 times the mass of Earth.

The researchers published their work in the journal Nature.

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