Giant black hole to 'eat' space cloud in 2013
A large gas cloud is about to be a meal for a monster black hole about 4.3 million times the size of our Sun —all in our corner of the universe— in 2013.
Scientists have managed to guess the location of the black hole, dubbed "Sagittarius A," through its radio emissions, Space.com said.
"It is by no means easy to feed a black hole — if you were to throw something into its direction and you miss it a bit, the object would just swing by the black hole, like a spacecraft does when it passes a planet," study lead author Stefan Gillessen, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, told SPACE.com.
He said the object can only fall in if one points precisely towards the black hole and hits it.
Another way an object will fall into the black hole is if it loses energy and decelerates then falls in during its swing-by, he added.
Space.com said this is the first time ever that the approach of a doomed cloud to a supermassive black hole has been observed.
It said the cloud is expected to break up completely during 2013.
Scientists predict that, as the cloud continues to fall into the black hole, its X-ray emissions should become substantially brighter, and it should spit out a giant radiation flare in a few years.
"Probably the first telescopes to notice the violence of the event will be X-ray satellites, but later Sagittarius A might show up in all wavelengths," Gillessen said.
The dusty gas cloud, which scientists had been observing since 2002, has grown increasingly disrupted as it moves closer toward the black hole's accretion zone, where matter begins a "death spiral" into the black hole.
The cloud is about three times the mass of Earth heading for Sagittarius A at about 8.4 million kph.
"We can actually watch how this cloud gets disrupted — we see the changes in front of our eyes within the few years we have observed the cloud," Gillessen said.
He added the event will become much more dramatic in the near future as the cloud "now accelerates quickly towards the massive black hole."
According to the researchers, monitoring how this cloud behaves in the next few years should help them learn more about the Milky Way's central black hole - such as its feeding processes.
"We can hope to understand how material is distributed around the black hole and thus test theoretical pictures of the emission of Sagittarius A*, which results from the material in the black hole's surroundings," Gillessen said.
A separate report on Mashable said that while Gillessen had previously observed two stars that came close to the black hole, they had passed unharmed.
“(B)ut this time will be different: The gas cloud will be completely ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole,” it quoted Gillessen as saying. — TJD, GMA News