The Milky Way’s massive black hole was caught spitting some of its food out, showing that toddlers aren’t the only messy eaters in our universe.
Of all of the gas that falls into the black hole at the center of our galaxy, 99 percent gets spewed back into space, according to new observations.
While black holes can’t actually be seen, the area around them usually emits strong radiation from the material being sucked inside, reports Space News.
But that isn’t so for Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”), the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. The lack of radiation has prompted scientists to find out why the black hole has little light around it.
Debate has surrounded the phenomenon for about 20 years over what is actually happening to the matter around the massive black hole. NBC News notes that research leader Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has said that the results are “the first direct evidence for outflow in the accretion process.”
The debate still surrounds whether the Milky Way’s black hole is spewing the matter back out, or if it is accreting the matter. But the new findings support the idea that most of the matter in the gas cloud around Sagittarius A* is ejected back into space. The theory explains why it doesn’t release light like it should be doing on its way to being consumed.
The new discovery is based off observations with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The X-ray views focused more on the cloud of gas surrounding the Milky Way’s black hole. In focusing on that, researchers found much less higher-temperature gas than lower-temperature gas. Because mass heats up during its fall into a black hole, researchers were able to infer that gas was lost in the process.
While the black hole must be spitting out some of its food, Wang explained, “Exactly how it happens is not totally clear… this is the first observational evidence that can say this does occur.” Scientists will need to observe the black hole further to see how the gas is ejected from the massive body and where it goes.
[Image via NASA/UMass/Q.D. Wang et al.; IR: NASA/STScI]