A massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy called Sagittarius A* is about to consume a giant cloud of gas. Scientists are hoping that the cosmic feast will shed light on how black holes consume celestial objects.
Physorg.com reports that many, if not all galaxies have a massive black hole at their center. Sagittarius A* is the only black hole close enough for scientists to study.
Eliot Quataert, a theoretical astrophysicist and University of California, Berkeley professor of astronomy, said:
“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. 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.”
Space.com reports that the massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way contains about 4.3 million times the mass of the sun. The black hole is constantly pulling at objects in the Milky Way but according to Stefan Gillessen, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, it is very rare for the black hole to actually consume and destroy something.
“If you were to throw something into (a black hole’s) direction and you miss it a bit, the object would just swing by the black hole, like a spacecraft does when it passes a planet. The object can only fall in if you point very precisely towards the black hole and hit it, or if during the swing-by the object loses energy and decelerates such that it falls in.”
Scientists around the world will watch as the giant glass cloud is sucked into the black hole over the next two years. The BBC reports that the cloud will soon pass the point of no return and has already started to elongate as it nears the black hole.
“The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction. But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience.”
Here’s a video about the massive black hole in the Milky Way Galaxy.