Milky Way`s black hole may soon eat up a gas cloud

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 15:50

Washington: A newly found object hurtling
towards the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky
Way is likely to be consumed by it in about 18 months, predict
astronomers.

The expected 2013 rendezvous of the object the size of a
small planet, which is rushing towrads the black hole at a
speed of five million miles an hour, may offer scientists
first ever opportunity to witness such an event.

Initially, the object, which was discovered using the
European Southern Observatory`s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in
Chile, was thought to be a gas cloud formed from material from
nearby stars.
Now, an analysis from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for
Astrophysics suggested that the newly found object could have
a different origin -- and form a disc of material that would
have gone on to form planets, had its parent star not been
pulled towards the supermassive black hole.

The scientists think that the star might have been pulled
out of a ring of young stars, hinting that many planet-forming
discs and even planets could exist in the heart of our galaxy.

"Essentially, we have never seen before how any black
hole in the universe is being fed," said study co-author
Stefan Gillessen, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute
for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.

"Now we have the chance to watch something fall in," he
was quoted as saying by the `scientificamerican.com`.

The 2013 impact will allow us to determine, whether the
object is a gas cloud or a star complete with proto-planetary
material, the scientists said.

They believe that the black hole might rip the gas cloud
apart and pull it inward, producing a detectable surge in
x-ray emissions as the gas compresses and heats up.
Depending on how the cloud breaks up, the black hole may
feed on it for years to come, significantly brightening the
faint glow that emanates from just outside the edge of the
black hole, its event horizon, and providing astrophysicists a
unique view of black hole digestion, they reported in the
journal Nature.

According to the scientists, the infall that could be
observable with large telescopes such as NASA`s Chandra X-ray
Observatory could give new clues about the environs
surrounding the Milky Way`s black hole.

It could also provide new information about the behaviour
of supermassive black holes, which are found at the centers of
all large galaxies, they said.

But the prediction of an infall rests on the conclusion
that the object streaking toward a flyby of the Milky Way`s
central supermassive black hole is indeed a loose blob of gas
and not something much sturdier.

Andrea Ghez of the University of California who studies
the region surrounding the black hole suspects that the
inbound object is in fact a star.

If that were the case, the object would be able to
survive such a close passage of the black hole without being
torn apart in fact, astronomers have watched stars cruise to
within 11 light-hours of the Milky Way`s black hole and live
to see another orbit.
The black hole, denied its dinner, in that case would
continue its steady whisper rather than letting out a roar,
they said.

PTI



First Published: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 15:50

More from zeenews

 
comments powered by Disqus