The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is about to become active

Roberta Duarte Meteor Brazil 5 minutes
galaxy black hole
Researchers have found evidence that the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is about to become active.

Supermassive black holes are objects found at the center of galaxies. They are objects that can reach about billions of times the mass of the Sun. The Galaxy itself has a supermassive black hole at its center, Sgr A* (Sagittarius A*).

There is a mystery surrounding these objects: How did they get to the center of the galaxies and how did they get to the size they are today? These are two questions that do not yet have a final answer, and many researchers are focusing their work on answering them using telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.

One way to tell is to observe them when they record something and begin the process known as accretion.. The supermassive black hole closest to us is close to the start of this process, according to a study published in The Astrophysical Journal.

How do black holes feed?

When we think black holes, we immediately think of objects that devour everything as they travel through the Universe. However, the process through which Power is much more complicated than that.

First, something must be captured by the strong gravitational field of this object. From there, a so-called process of accretion.

The accretion process occurs when angular momentum is transferred and a disk, called the accretion disk, forms around the black hole.

The inner parts of the disk begin to spiral into the black hole. The accretion disk may emit a glow, that we can observe with telescopes and better understand the complex process of accretion.

Sgr A*: the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

To better understand these objects it is useful to observe the nearest black hole to us, Sgr A*. This object has been the result of intensive study for decades, including a Nobel Prize in Physics associated with its discovery, and was the subject of the second photograph of a black hole published by the Event Horizon telescope.

The supermassive black hole of the Milky Way
The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, Sgr A*. The supermassive black hole has 4 million solar masses and the first image was released in May 2022. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Like most supermassive black holes near us, Sgr A* is in a state where it eats very little. This object’s nutrition is limited to winds from stars orbiting it.which is very little and some researchers already consider it an inactive black hole.

However, it is important to observe the environment it is in and recently, using data from around 20 years, they found evidence that a bubble of gas approaches Sgr A*.

Debris from the collision of two stars

Using data from the center of the Milky Way, University of California researchers found a gas bubble named X7.

Images of the X7 gas bubble around the black hole
Using data from about 20 years ago, researchers at the University of California were able to observe the X7 gas cloud spiraling toward Sgr A*. credit: UCLA

The gas bubble is about 50 times the mass of Earth and moves at about 1100 km/h in a 170-year elliptical orbit around Sgr A*.

More detailed observations led the team of researchers to suggest that this gas bubble came from a direct collision of two stars. When two stars collided with each other near Sgr A*, they released remnants of gas that now orbit the black hole.

Moments before the meal

By observing the trajectory of the X7 gas bubble, we can track the moments before the supermassive black hole is activated. The bubble can give us insight of the gravitational force of the central object and how it affects the environment around it.

Furthermore, Understanding the gas bubble can give us answers about the physics of accretion which is a complex process and still with open questions. Finally, the bubble can also give us a direction for answers to the two basic questions of how they came about and why they are there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *