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Nearest Black Hole To Earth’s Activity ‘Hasn’t Been Seen In 24 Years’

by : Julia Banim on : 13 Sep 2019 12:29
Black Hole GalaxyBlack Hole GalaxyNASA

After nearly a quarter century of appearing idle, the colossal black hole at the centre of our galaxy is suddenly ravenous.

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Sagitarrius A* is reported to be currently on a feeding frenzy, feasting on gargantuan amounts of gas, dust and any matter within its vicinity.

This is said to be the largest amount of matter the behemoth has demolished in 24 years; an intergalactic all you can eat buffet for Sag A*.

A research team led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analysed more than 13,000 measurements from Chile’s Very Large Telescope and Hawaii’s Keck Telescopes, with their findings published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Over the course of 130 days, scientists examined the brightness radiating from the very heart of the Milky Way and found this was caused partly by Sag A* gorging on interstellar gas and dust like a monolithic packet of Pringles.

At first glance, the team thought they were accidentally gazing at a star. However, it later emerged the black hole was exhibiting some pretty unusual behaviour. And scientists aren’t quite sure yet what has sparked Sag A*’s activity.

UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a co-senior author of the study, Andrea Ghez, has said:

We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole,

It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.

Black Hole Galaxy Feeding FrenzyBlack Hole Galaxy Feeding FrenzyPA

Ghez has described the black hole’s activity as ‘unprecedented’, stating:

We want to know how black holes grow and affect the evolution of galaxies and the universe,

We want to know why the supermassive hole gets brighter and how it gets brighter.

UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and the co-senior author of the paper, Mark Morris, said:

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The big question is whether the black hole is entering a new phase — for example if the spigot has been turned up and the rate of gas falling down the black hole ‘drain’ has increased for an extended period — or whether we have just seen the fireworks from a few unusual blobs of gas falling in.

Going forward, the team will continue to observe the area by taking further images, with the aim of unlocking the mystery of Sag A*.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News, Black Hole, galaxy, Sagitarrius A*

Credits

The Astrophysical Journal Letters and 1 other
  1. The Astrophysical Journal Letters

    Unprecedented Near-infrared Brightness and Variability of Sgr A*

  2. UCLA Newsroom

    Black hole at the center of our galaxy appears to be getting hungrier