. Space Travel News .




.
TIME AND SPACE
A black hole's dinner is fast approaching
by Staff Writers
Garching, Germany (SPX) Dec 16, 2011

This view shows a simulation of how a gas cloud that has been observed approaching the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy may break apart over the next few years. This is the first time ever that the approach of such a doomed cloud to a supermassive black hole has been observed and it is expected to break up completely during 2013. The remains of the gas cloud are shown in red and yellow, with the cloud's orbit marked in red. The stars orbiting the black hole are also shown along with blue lines marking their orbits. This view simulates the expected positions of the stars and gas cloud in the year 2021. Credit: ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann.

During a 20-year programme using ESO telescopes to monitor the movement of stars around the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, a team of astronomers led by Reinhard Genzel at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany, has discovered a unique new object fast approaching the black hole.

Over the last seven years, the speed of this object has nearly doubled, reaching more than 8 million km/h. It is on a very elongated orbit and in mid-2013 it will pass at a distance of only about 40 billion kilometres from the event horizon of the black hole, a distance of about 36 light-hours. This is an extremely close encounter with a supermassive black hole in astronomical terms.

This object is much cooler than the surrounding stars (only about 280 degrees Celsius), and is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. It is a dusty, ionised gas cloud with a mass roughly three times that of the Earth. The cloud is glowing under the strong ultraviolet radiation from the hot stars around it in the crowded heart of the Milky Way.

The current density of the cloud is much higher than the hot gas surrounding the black hole. But as the cloud gets ever closer to the hungry beast, increasing external pressure will compress the cloud. At the same time the huge gravitational pull from the black hole, which has a mass four million times that of the Sun, will continue to accelerate the inward motion and stretch the cloud out along its orbit.

"The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction. But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience," explains Stefan Gillessen (MPE) the lead author of the paper.

The cloud's edges are already starting to shred and disrupt and it is expected to break up completely over the next few years. The astronomers can already see clear signs of increasing disruption of the cloud over the period between 2008 and 2011.

The material is also expected to get much hotter as it nears the black hole in 2013 and it will probably start to give off X-rays. There is currently little material close to the black hole so the newly-arrived meal will be the dominant fuel for the black hole over the next few years.

One explanation for the formation of the cloud is that its material may have come from nearby young massive stars that are rapidly losing mass due to strong stellar winds. Such stars literally blow their gas away. Colliding stellar winds from a known double star in orbit around the central black hole may have led to the formation of the cloud.

"The next two years will be very interesting and should provide us with extremely valuable information on the behaviour of matter around such remarkable massive objects," concludes Reinhard Genzel.

This research was presented in a paper "A gas cloud on its way towards the super-massive black hole in the Galactic Centre", by S. Gillessen et al., to appear in the 5 January 2012 issue of the journal Nature. The team is composed of S. Gillessen (Max-Planck-Institut fur extraterrestrische Physik [MPE], Germany), R. Genzel (MPE; Department of Physics, University of California [UC], USA), T. Fritz (MPE, Germany), E. Quataert (Department of Astronomy, UC, USA), C. Alig (Universitatssternwarte der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat [LMU], Germany), A. Burkert (MPE; LMU), J. Cuadra (Departamento de Astronomia y Astrofisica, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile), F. Eisenhauer (MPE), O. Pfuhl (MPE), K. Dodds-Eden (MPE), C. Gammie (Center for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Illinois, USA), T. Ott (MPE).

Related Links
ESO
The Galactic Centre at MPE
Understanding Time and Space




.
.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
...
Buy Advertising Editorial Enquiries






.

. Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle



TIME AND SPACE
Early Black Holes Grew Big Eating Cold, Fast Food
Pittsburgh PA (SPX) Dec 16, 2011
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology have discovered what caused the rapid growth of early supermassive black holes - a steady diet of cold, fast food. Computer simulations, completed using supercomputers at the National Institute for Computational Sciences and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and viewed using GigaPan Time Machine ... read more


TIME AND SPACE
Arianespace Signs First launch contracts for Vega

Acra Control Proven in Low Earth Orbit

Arianespace Completes 2011 Launch Manifest With Successful Soyuz Campaign

Vega moves closer to its first liftoff

TIME AND SPACE
Meteorite Shock Waves Trigger Dust Avalanches on Mars

Opportunity at One of its Two Winter Spots

Scientists find microbes in lava tube living in conditions like those on Mars

MARSIS Completes Measurement Campaign Over Martian North Pole

TIME AND SPACE
Peres promotes Israeli moon probe

Hundreds of NASA's moon rocks missing: audit

Schafer Corp Signs Licensing Agreement with MoonDust Technologies

Russia wants to focus on Moon if Mars mission fails

TIME AND SPACE
New Horizons Becomes Closest Spacecraft to Approach Pluto

Pluto's Hidden Ocean

Is the Pluto System Dangerous?

Starlight study shows Pluto's chilly twin

TIME AND SPACE
Giant Super-Earths Made Of Diamond Are Possible

New Planet Kepler-21b discovery a partnership of both space and ground-based observations

Astronomers Find Goldilocks Planet and Others

The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a new online database of habitable worlds

TIME AND SPACE
NASA Takes Next Step In Developing Commercial Crew Program

Industry Leaders Discuss New Booster Development for Space Launch System

NASA Concludes 2011 Testing of J-2X Engine

Russia space agency 'bans foreign travel'

TIME AND SPACE
Tiangong-1 orbiter starts planned cabin checks against toxic gas

China celebrates success of space docking mission

Two and a Half Men for Shenzhou

China honors its 'father' of space efforts

TIME AND SPACE
Using many instruments to track a comet

Comet Lovejoy Plunges into the Sun and Survives

NASA Developing Comet Harpoon for Sample Return

NASA at work on 'spearfishing' for comets


.

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement