Published: Tue, August 13, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

‘Unprecedented’: Supermassive Black Hole at Our Galaxy’s Center Just Flashed Like Crazy

‘Unprecedented’: Supermassive Black Hole at Our Galaxy’s Center Just Flashed Like Crazy

The Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole always varies in brightness, but this level of infrared light has never been detected before. One team of scientists has been measuring it for over 20 years, and back in May, they observed a flash of infrared radiation that was brighter than had ever been measured from the black hole.

Supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) suddenly glowed way too brighter than its normal state in May earlier this year. It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!

Tuan Do of the University of California Los Angeles told ScienceAlert, 'I was pretty surprised at first and then very excited.

"We can see it changing in real time", Tuan Do, the study's first author, a research scientist at UCLA, told Gizmodo.

The researchers observed the black hole for four nights in May using an infrared camera at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

'I knew nearly right away there was probably something interesting going on with the black hole'.

But what? That's what astronomers are on a mission to find out. That's because the supermassive black hole being observed, dubbed Sagittarius A*, is a mind-bending * a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagittarius_A*" *25,640 light years from Earth.

That brightly glowing dot right at the beginning of the video is the dust and gas swirling around Sgr A*.

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Black holes do not emit any radiation on their own that can be detected by our current instruments.

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun.

Scientists say they weren't aware of anything travelling close enough to create that kind of friction, however.

The team is busily gathering data to try and narrow it down, but there are two immediate possibilities. If it was a gas cloud, this proximity should have torn it to shreds, and parts of it devoured by the black hole - yet nothing happened.

Less than one per cent of the material initially within the black hole's gravitational influence reaches the event horizon, or point of no return, because much of it is ejected.

But - have a look at the timelapse again. While the supermassive black hole itself isn't visible, its so-called electromagnetic counterpart can be tracked. This scientists were especially interested in a star orbiting close to the galactic center called SO-2. Last year, it made its closest approach, coming within 17 light-hours of the black hole.

Researchers suggest either of these encounters could have caused the flash: "Potential physical origins of Sagittarius A*'s unprecedented brightness may be from changes in the accretion-flow as a result of the star S0-2's closest passage to the black hole in 2018 or from a delayed reaction to the approach of the dusty object G2 in 2014".

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