Credit: ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann
A large gas cloud is about to be consumed by our Milky Way's black hole.
ScienceDaily — The normally quiet neighborhood around the massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy is being invaded by a gas cloud that is destined in just a few years to be ripped, shredded and largely eaten.
Many, if not all, galaxies have massive black holes at their centers. But this supermassive black hole is the only one close enough for astronomers to study in detail, so the violent encounter is a unique chance to observe what until now has only been theorized: how a black hole gulps gas, dust and stars as it grows ever bigger.
"When we look at the black holes in the centers of other galaxies, we see them get bright and then fade, but we never know what is actually happening," said Eliot Quataert, a theoretical astrophysicist and University of California, Berkeley professor of astronomy. "This is an unprecedented opportunity to obtain unique observations and insight into the processes that go on as gas falls into a black hole, heats up and emits light. It's a neat window onto a black hole that's actually capturing gas as it spirals in."
"The next two years will be very interesting and should provide us with extremely valuable information on the behavior of matter around such massive objects, and its ultimate fate," said Reinhard Genzel, professor of physics at both UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany.