Supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is beating faster than ever before

The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*, galaxy devours a snackNASA


  • A new study led by Emmanuel Mossoux confirms that a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way— Sagittarius A* — is more active.
  • It supports earlier observations that the normally docile black hole was acting differently.
  • Scientists are yet to determine whether this is a new chapter in the black hole’s lifecycle or just a passing phase.
The Milky Way’s very own supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, is meant to be docile. It’s not an active galactic nucleus and largely keeps to itself — unlike some other large black holes that rotate so fast that they bend space.

However, an increasing number of studies are pointing to the possibility that this may no longer hold true. Like in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippo, Sagittarius A* is getting hungrier and munching everything that comes its way.

The Milky Way, shown here as an artist's concept, is home to Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole at the galaxy's centerNASA

A new study, that is under peer review with the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal, found that the black hole has increased the rate at which it throws up bright flares. These flares are indicative of activity. More flares mean more action.

Humans on Earth don’t need to panic since Sagittarius A* is over 26,000 lightyears from the planet - but the increase in activity does throw up a lot of new questions that researchers are dying to know the answers to.

The region around Sagittarius A* is shown in this new composite image with Chandra data (green and blue) NASA

Something’s changing — but we don’t know what it is
Multiple studies indicate that something’s up with the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way. Normally uneventful, it’s been getting more active over the last few years.

An earlier study, by the same lead author — Emmanuelle Mossoux — determined that between 1999 and 2015, Sagittarius A* threw up 107 flares. However, the frequency of the brightest flares increased after 2014. In addition, the faintest of flares had begun to disappear a year earlier.

The region around Sagittarius A* is shown in this composite image with Chandra data (green and blue) NASA

Last year, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole swelled up to 75 times its usual brightness — and it wasn’t the only time. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) believe that its feasting on everything that comes its way for the first time in 24 years. Their study shows there were two other nights in 2019 when the black hole was changing in “ unprecedented” ways.

The culmination of studies has astronomers all over the world wondering if the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is entering a new phase of its life cycle — or if it’s just an unusual form of gas that makes it act this way. Either way, Sagittarius A* is doing things that it’s never done before in the planet’s history.

According to Mossoux, they need more data in order to determine if the change in the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is persistent — or just a temporary fluke.

See also:
Milky Way’s ‘quiet wimpy’ black hole is getting hungrier and brighter

Supermassive black hole bigger than 7 billion Suns is spinning so fast that it's close to breaking the laws of physics

Supermassive black hole is eating meals worth four Moons thrice a day

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