Astronomers said Thursday they have spotted a hot bubble of gas orbiting clockwise around the black hole at the center of our galaxy at a “mind-blowing” speed. The discovery of the bubble, which lasted only a few hours, is expected to provide insight into how these invisible, voracious galactic monsters operate.
lurks at the center of the Milky Way about 27,000 light-years from Earth, and its immense pull gives our home galaxy its characteristic whirlpool.
The first ever image of Sagittarius A* was taken in May by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, which links radio dishes around the world to detect light as it disappears into the maws of black holes.
One such dish, the ALMA radio telescope in the Chilean Andes, found something “really mysterious” in data from the Sagittarius A* satellite, said Maciek Wilgus, an astrophysicist at the German Radio Astronomy Institute. Max Planck.
Just minutes before ALMA began collecting radio data, the Chandra Space Telescope observed a “huge spike” in X-rays, Vilgus told AFP.
This burst of energy, similar to solar flares on the Sun, caused a hot bubble of gas to swirl around the black hole, according to a new study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The gas bubble, also known as the hotspot, had an orbit similar to that of Mercury around the Sun, according to study lead author Vilgus.
But while Mercury takes 88 days to make this journey, the bubble did it in just 70 minutes. This means that it was traveling at about 30 percent of the speed of light.
“So it’s an absolutely, ridiculously fast-spinning bubble,” Vilgus said, calling it “mind blowing.”
Scientists were able to track the bubble in their data for about an hour and a half – it is unlikely that it lived more than a couple of turns before it was destroyed.
Vilgus said the observation supports the theory known as MAD. “MAD is like madness, but also MADNESS is like magnetically fixed discs,” he said.
This phenomenon is thought to occur when there is such a strong magnetic field at the mouth of a black hole that it prevents material from being sucked in.
But matter continues to pile up, turning into a “flux eruption,” Vilgus said, which rips apart magnetic fields and causes a burst of energy.
By learning how these magnetic fields work, scientists hope to build a model of the forces that govern black holes, which are still shrouded in mystery.
Magnetic fields can also help indicate how fast black holes are spinning, which could be especially interesting for Sagittarius A*.
While Sagittarius A* is four million times the mass of our Sun, it shines with a power of about 100 suns, “which is extremely unimpressive for a supermassive black hole,” Vilgus said.
“This is the faintest supermassive black hole we’ve seen in the universe – we only saw it because it’s very close to us.”
But it’s probably good that there’s a “hungry black hole” at the center of our galaxy, Vilgus said.
“Living next to a quasar,” which can shine with the power of billions of suns, “would be awful,” he added.
By definition, black holes cannot be directly observed because nothing, not even light, can escape the crushing internal force of their titanic gravity.
But their presence can be detected indirectly by observing the influence of gravity on the trajectories of nearby stars and the radiation emitted in the electromagnetic spectrum by matter heated to extreme temperatures as it is sucked into a rapidly spinning “accretion disk” and then into the hole itself.
The main goal of the new James Webb Space Telescope is to help astronomers map the formation and growth of such black holes after the Big Bang.