Astronomers spot hot gas bubbles spinning at “mind-boggling” speeds around the Milky Way’s black hole

Astronomers on Thursday said they spotted a hot gas bubble spinning clockwise around the black hole at the center of our galaxy at “mind-boggling” speeds. Hopefully, the detection of the bubble, which has only survived for a few hours, will provide insight into how these invisible, insatiable galactic monsters work.

the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A * hides in the middle of the Milky Way about 27,000 light-years from Earth, and its immense attraction gives our home galaxy its signature vortex.

The first-ever image of Sagittarius A * was revealed in May by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which connects radio antennas around the world with the goal of detecting light as it disappears into the jaws of black holes.

One such dish, the ALMA radio telescope in the Chilean Andes, detected something “really baffling” in the A * data from Sagittarius, said Maciek Wielgus, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

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This is the first image of Sagittarius A *, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. It was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, an array that linked eight existing radio observatories around the planet to form a single “Earth-sized” virtual telescope. While we can’t see the event horizon itself, we can see light bent by the black hole’s powerful gravity.

Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration


Minutes before ALMA’s radio data collection began, the Chandra Space Telescope observed a “huge spike” in X-rays, Wielgus told AFP.

According to a new study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, this blast of energy, believed to be similar to solar flares on the sun, sent a hot bubble of gas swirling around the black hole.

The gas bubble, also known as the hot spot, had an orbit similar to Mercury’s journey around the sun, study lead author Wielgus said.

But while Mercury takes 88 days to make that trip, the bubble did it in just 70 minutes. This means that he has traveled at about 30 percent of the speed of light.

“So it’s an absolutely, ridiculously fast bubble,” Wielgus said, calling it “mind blowing”.

Scientists were able to trace the bubble through their data for about an hour and a half – it was unlikely that it had survived more than a couple of orbits before it was destroyed.

Wielgus said the observation supported a theory known as MAD. “MAD like crazy, but also MAD like magnetic detent discs,” she said.

The phenomenon is thought to occur when there is such a strong magnetic field at the mouth of a black hole that it prevents the material from being sucked into it.

But matter continues to accumulate, forming a “flux eruption,” Wielgus said, which disrupts the magnetic fields and causes an explosion of energy.

By learning how these magnetic fields work, scientists hope to build a model of the forces that control black holes, which remain shrouded in mystery.

Magnetic fields could also help indicate the speed of rotation of black holes, which could be particularly interesting for Sagittarius A *.

While Sagittarius A * is four million times the mass of our sun, it only shines with the power of about 100 suns, “which is extremely insignificant for a supermassive black hole,” Wielgus said.

“It’s the faintest supermassive black hole we’ve seen in the universe – we’ve only seen it because it’s very close to us.”

But it’s probably a good thing that our galaxy has a “starving black hole” at its center, Wielgus said.

“Living next to a quasar,” which can shine with the power of billions of suns, “would be a terrible thing,” he added.

By definition, black holes cannot be observed directly because nothing, not even light, can escape the overwhelming inner force of their titanic gravity.

But their presence can be detected indirectly by observing the effects of that gravity on the trajectories of nearby stars and by the radiation emitted across the electromagnetic spectrum from material heated to extreme temperatures as it is sucked into a rapidly rotating “accretion disk” and then into the hole. same.

A major goal of the new James Webb Space Telescope is to help astronomers track the formation and growth of such black holes in the aftermath of the Big Bang.

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