Gas Cloud Spaghettified at the Milky Way's CoreCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: July 19, 2013 08:42AM
At the center of our galaxy, and possibly all galaxies, is a supermassive black hole. Weighing in at roughly four million solar masses, Sagittarius A star (Sgr A*), our supermassive black hole, has a wide reach and is currently grasping at a massive gas cloud. Astronomers have recently used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe and measure the cloud's speed as it just barely escapes the black hole.
As dangerous as black holes may seem, they like all massive bodies in the Universe, can only reach so far, and anything outside of that reach is relatively safe. In this case 'relatively safe' means the gas is not going to fall into the black hole, but it is being stretched out a great deal; over 160 billion kilometers. With such length, it will be passing Sgr A* for at least a year, even as parts of it travel at 10 million kilometers per hour, or approximately one percent the speed of light.
The origins of the cloud are still unknown, but the astronomers suspect it came from the solar winds of stars orbiting Sgr A*. The astronomers will be studying it closely to see how it behaves as it escapes the black hole's gravity and suffers hydrodynamic turbulence.