Astronomers have been watching the black hole at the center of our galaxy for 20 years, and in May, they saw something they'd never seen before.
Well, technically, they aren't watching the black hole itself, which scientists call Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. Instead, they're looking at the matter around that black hole. When the Milky Way's black hole is more active than usual, that event horizon becomes brighter as it heats up due to friction. Usually, Sgr A* is pretty calm for a black hole, but in May, that changed, according to new research.
Hole - Tuan - Do - Astronomer - University
"The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we've seen in the infrared so far," Tuan Do, an astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the new study, said on Twitter. "It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!"
That hypothesis is based on the fact that, when the astronomers focused on the area on May 13, they only saw relatively high brightness decreasing, suggesting that the black hole had passed an unknown peak that was even brighter. According to the new paper, the recent flare brought Sgr A* to twice the brightness of the highest previous measurement to date.
Do - Colleagues - Observations - Keck - Telescopes
Do and his colleagues made the observations using the Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That instrument can see the world in near infrared light, which encompasses wavelengths a...
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