A new glimpse of how the black hole in our galaxy devours interstellar gas and matter

Using a telescope located at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile, scientists recently made a never-before-seen discovery: A layer of cool, interstellar gas wrapped around a massive black hole that lies at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

According to Science Daily, the discovery “gives astronomers new insights into the workings of accretion: the siphoning of material onto the surface of a black hole.”

Though black holes were shrouded in mystery for decades, over the past decade new information has come to the fore allowing us to better understand these areas where gravitational acceleration is so strong that not even light can’t escape.

As Gizmodo explains, black holes such as the one found in our own galaxy are vast areas of great turmoil:

“The immediate area surrounding the supermassive black hole is kind of intense. Called Sagittarius A*, this behemoth has a mass around 4 million times that of our Sun. As befits a supermassive black hole of that size, it has managed, through its intense gravitational influence, to collect an assortment of cosmological wonders, including wayward stars, troves of interstellar dust, and various gases.”


1024px Black hole Cygnus X 1
NASA rendering of the black hole Cygnus X-1

The discovery of the ring around the Milky Way black hole cannot be overstated:

“These observations provide new insights into how the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way collects and devours surrounding matter. In the new study, the researchers estimate that Sagittarius A* gobbles up a relatively tiny amount of matter—less than half a percent of the mass of the Moon per year.”

The new information from researchers is just the latest regarding black holes. In April, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project gave us the first photo of a black hole:

Elena Murchikova, a member in astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, had this to say about the discovery of the gaseous ring around Sagittarius A*:

“We were the first to image this elusive disk and study its rotation. We are also probing accretion onto the black hole. This is important because this is our closest supermassive black hole. Even so, we still have no good understanding of how its accretion works. We hope these new ALMA observations will help the black hole give up some of its secrets.”

Those secrets could well be the key to a fuller understanding of the universe and our place in it. They could also give us new insight into how the cosmos began and how it may one day end.


More on Black Holes below from SpaceRip:

Featured Image Via NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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