ERC Starting Grant for Stefan Gillessen

November 05, 2012

End of October, the European Research Council announced that Stefan Gillessen from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics will receive an ERC Starting Grant. Awarded purely on scientific excellence, this grant will allow MPE to establish a research group that will focus on interpreting the novel interferometric data of the galactic centre, which will soon be available. With the new GRAVITY instrument, currently being developed at MPE, relativistic effects close to the black hole in the heart of Milky Way should be detectable.

Infrared view of the galactic centre (left) and a drawing showing the orbits of about 30 stars around the central black hole (right). With the new GRAVITY instrument, the scientists in the PROGRESO research group will be able to peer even closer to the event horizon of the black hole, to detect relativistic effects and to test gravity.

Of the four fundamental forces in nature, gravity is the least tested one. The galactic centre with its supermassive black hole is a unique laboratory for gravitational physics. On cosmic scales, this is very close by – with a distance of 27 000 light years only. For the past 20 years, scientists at MPE have used high-resolution infrared cameras to study the orbits of around 40 individual stars, which can be used as “test particles” for the gravitational potential. To date, all of the astrometric and radial velocity data can be described by purely Keplerian orbits around a single central mass, larger than 4 million times the mass of our Sun.

Currently, a new instrument is being developed under the leadership of MPE, which will allow the scientists to look even closer to the event horizon of the black hole, where relativistic effects will occur. The next-generation instrument GRAVITY will combine the four 8m VLT telescopes of the European Southern Observatory interferometrically, increasing the resolution and astrometric precision by a factor of 15-20. With this data, it will be possible to test gravity in a so far unprobed regime of mass and space-time curvature and maybe to determine the spin of the black hole.


About the ERC Starting Grants

The ERC Starting Grants are awarded to researchers of any nationality with several years of postdoctoral experience and a scientific track record showing great promise. They must submit an excellent research proposal and the research must be conducted in a public or private research organisation located in a EU Member State or Associated Countries. Funding is up to € 1.5 million for up to 5 years.

Other Interesting Articles

Go to Editor View