Milky Way’s black hole appears to be getting hungrier | 9/15/2019 | EarthSky
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Artist’s concept of an object called S0-2 orbiting our Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. Astronomers tracked this object for years, hoping to catch it falling over the hole’s event horizon. It did not fall in, but its close approach in 2018 might be one reason for the black hole’s growing appetite now. Image via Nicolle Fuller/National Science Foundation.

UCLA astronomers announced on September 11, 2019, that, last May, they caught the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy having an unusually large meal of interstellar gas and dust. They caught the feast on May 13 (although of course it happened some 25,000 years ago earlier, since the center of the galaxy is about 25,000 light-years away). What they saw was this. The black hole – called Sagittarius A*, pronounced Sagittarius A-star – became extremely bright in May 2019, growing 75 times as bright for a few hours. Yet, as of now, the researchers don’t yet understand why. Why did the area just outside the black hole’s event horizon – its point of no return – suddenly become brighter? What did it ingest, and why at that time?

Astronomer - Tuan - Do - Author - Research

Astronomer Tuan Do is lead author of new research describing this event, published September 11 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. He also produced the timelapse in the tweet below, which depicts the brightness changes at Sgr A*. Andrea Ghez, of the UCLA Galactic Center Group, is co-senior author on the new paper. She said:

We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole. It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.

Statement - Researchers

In a statement, the researchers also said they:

… analyzed more than 13,000 observations of the black hole from 133 nights since 2003....
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