Astronomers discover a hot gas bubble spinning clockwise around a black hole in the Milky Way.
Sagittarius A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, is located 27,000 light years from Earth.
Astronomers discovered a hot bubble of gas spinning clockwise around the black hole at the center of our galaxy at “mind-boggling” speeds on Thursday.
The discovery of the bubble, which only lasted a few hours, is expected to shed light on how these invisible, insatiable galactic monsters operate.
Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole 27,000 light years from Earth, lurks in the center of the Milky Way, and its immense pull gives our galaxy its distinctive swirl.
The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which connects radio dishes around the world to detect light as it disappears into the maw of black holes, revealed the first image of Sagittarius A* in May.
According to Maciek Wielgus, an astrophysicist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, one of those dishes, the ALMA radio telescope in Chile’s Andes mountains, detected something “really puzzling” in the Sagittarius A* data.
The Chandra Space Telescope detected a “huge spike” in X-rays just minutes before ALMA’s radio data collection began, Wielgus told AFP.
According to a new study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, this burst of energy, thought to be similar to solar flares on the Sun, sent a hot bubble of gas swirling around the black hole.
According to the study’s lead author Wielgus, the gas bubble, also known as a hot spot, had an orbit similar to Mercury’s trip around the Sun.
While Mercury takes 88 days to make that journey, the bubble did it in just 70 minutes. That means it moved at roughly 30% the speed of light.
“So it’s an absolutely, ridiculously fast-spinning bubble,” Wielgus explained, adding that it was “mind blowing.”
A MAD hypothesis
The scientists were able to track the bubble for about an hour and a half using their data; it was unlikely to have survived more than a couple of orbits before being destroyed.
Wielgus stated that the observation supported the MAD theory. “MAD as in crazy, but MAD as in magnetically arrested discs,” he explained.
The phenomenon is thought to occur when a strong magnetic field forms at the mouth of a black hole, preventing material from being sucked inside.
However, the matter continues to accumulate, leading to a “flux eruption,” according to Wielgus, which snaps the magnetic fields and causes a burst of energy.
Scientists hope to develop a model of the forces that control black holes by understanding how these magnetic fields work.
Magnetic fields may also aid in determining how fast black holes spin, which may be of particular interest to Sagittarius A*.
While Sagittarius A* has four million times the mass of our Sun, it only has the brightness of about 100 suns, which Wielgus describes as “extremely unimpressive for a supermassive black hole.”
“It’s the universe’s weakest supermassive black hole, and we’ve only seen it because it’s so close to us.”
However, Wielgus believes that our galaxy’s “starving black hole” at its center is probably a good thing.
“It would be a terrible thing to live next to a quasar,” which can shine with the power of billions of suns, he added.
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