Astronomers have observed a unique space event, as they observed a hot bubble of gas spinning clockwise around the black hole at the center of our galaxy at speeds they described as “astounding”.
Scientists hope the discovery of the bubble, which only survived a few hours, will provide insight into how these insatiable devouring insatiable space monsters operate.
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Lurking in the middle of the Milky Way about 27,000 light-years from Earth, the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, its massive gravity gives our home galaxy a distinct whirl.
The first-ever image of Sagittarius A* surfaced last May by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration project, which connects radio dishes around the world with the goal of detecting light as it disappears into black holes.
One such dish, the ALMA radio telescope in the Andes mountain range in Chile, has captured something “really perplexing” in the Sagittarius A* black hole data, said Masek Wilgus, an astrophysicist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.
Just minutes before it began collecting radio data from ALMA, the Chandra Space Telescope observed a “tremendous rise” in X-rays, Wilgus told AFP.
A new study, published in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, shows that this burst of energy, which is thought to resemble solar flares on the Sun, sent a hot bubble of gas orbiting the black hole.
30% of the speed of light
The gas bubble, also known as a ‘hot spot’, has an orbit similar to Mercury’s flight around the sun, said lead author of the study, Wilgus.
But while it takes Mercury 88 days to make this trip, the bubble did it in just 70 minutes, meaning it traveled about 30% of the speed of light.
“So it’s a ridiculously fast spinning bubble,” Wilgus said.