Our very own black hole in the Milky Way doesn’t quite eat up ‘everything’

  • The super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy doesn’t quite suck everything that comes in its orbit.
  • According to researchers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Sagittarius A* only eats up around half of the cool gases that circle the black hole.
  • This is the first time that the radiation around the black hole has been caught on camera and could contain clues to how different 5j5ne black holes are different from each other.
Black holes are normally known for being the big vacuum cleaners of outer space that suck up everything in sight – but that might not always be the case according to scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

About 26,000 light years away from the earth and four million times the size of the sun, researchers have found that the super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way – Sagittarius A* -- has a disc of cool gas circling its periphery without actually being sucked in.

We were the first to image this elusive disk and study its rotation.

Elena Murchikova, lead author on the paper

Only around half falls every year and it could help scientists understand the difference between different black holes and how they function.

Matter of different states

Till now, astronomers were only able to catch a glimpse of the hottest parts of the black hole. The hot gas around the black hole has been measured to be around 10 million degrees Kelvin. Till now, they were able to see that the gas formed a relatively spherical shape around the black hole but there was nothing to indicate rotation or movement.

Beyond the boundary of hot gas, there’s a radius of 6.5 light years around the black hole. And, the hydrogen gas spotted in that abyss is relatively cooler at 10 degrees Kelvin. Aside from is existence, scientists didn’t know much else.

The area surrounding the black hole – called the accretion disk – is essentially matter in different states circling like water around a drain.

The radiation given off by the black hole creates a faint radio signal that scientists can latch onto. When the radio signal was captured visually, researchers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, were able to see how the gas around the black hole is actually moving using the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA).

The white cross in the middle indicates the location of Sagittarius A* while wavelengths coming off the black hole has been shown in two different colours. The red wavelength shows the radiation that’s moving away from Earth and the wavelengths in blue is radiation that’s moving towards Earth.

The opposing radiation gives researchers a look into how the accretion disk rotates around the super massive black hole.

We are also probing accretion onto the black hole. This is important because this is our closest supermassive black hole. Even so, we still have no good understanding of how its accretion works. We hope these new ALMA observations will help the black hole give up some of its secrets.

Elena Murchikova, lead author on the paper


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