Our Black Hole Getting Ready For Dinner

Our Black Hole Getting Ready For Dinner

Galactic centre node full image.jpg

Later this year our very own supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way is going to have a meal of gas that has been detected falling in towards it. This is exciting as scientists are hoping to catch the event which they think may give an insight into the atmosphere surrounding a black hole and also give hints at how quasars are formed. 

What are Quasars?

Quasars are very bright (some are as bright as a 2 trillion Suns) active galactic centres and are thought to be powered by a black hole's accretion disc (the stuff spiralling around the black hole). Accretion is the termed used when an object gets larger by gravitationally attracting more matter to itself. This gas cloud on a collision course with the black hole, termed G2, isn't going to ignite a full blown quasar. It is only about the size of 3 Earths but it will hopefully give real clues as to how quasars may form.

How can we see this event?

Our supermassive black hole, known as Sagittarius A weighs in at an equivalent of 4 million solar masses and lays at the centre of our galaxy about 26,000 light years from us. Studying it is very difficult due to the thick dust clouds at the centre of the Milky Way. These clouds stop most of the light from the galactic centre from reaching us. It is said that if we blocked the midday sun by the same amount it would appear dimmer than Polaris, the Pole star, which has a magnitude of 2. Hence, we need to study the black hole through radio, x-ray and infrared as these pass through the cloud of dust.

Whatever happens there is pretty much no risk to us here on Earth. At 26,000 light years away from the event we are a long way from the danger zone.

Image Credit: Credits: ESA–C. Carreau

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