Monday, 21 October, 2019

Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole is acting weirder than normal

Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole is acting weirder than normal Our Galaxy's Supermassive Black Hole Has Emitted a Mysteriously Bright Flare
Sandra Phillips | 13 August, 2019, 19:52

'The black hole was so bright I at first mistook it for the star S0-2, because I had never seen Sgr A* that bright.

But what? That's what astronomers are on a mission to find out.

You don't usually think of a supermassive black hole as something that can go unnoticed, but many of these interstellar monsters are quite placid. Their findings so far are now in press with The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

In a video from the scientists, the flash, which lasted for more than two hours, is reduced to just a few seconds via a time-lapse. One team of scientists has been measuring it for over 20 years, and back in May, they observed a flash of infrared radiation that was brighter than had ever been measured from the black hole.

Black holes do not emit any radiation on their own that can be detected by our current instruments.

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The first frame - taken right at the beginning of the observation - is the brightest, which means Sgr A* could have been even brighter before they started observing, Do said. Passing stars, orbiting around the black hole because of its incredible gravity, can end up donating their material to the disk as they graze by those forces, and it's theorized that this Sgr A* activity is because of an extra-large meal from one such pass.

The black hole often flickers, but outbursts are incredibly rare. As ScienceAlert reports, the research team has a couple of possibilities in mind. Even if it was a gas cloud, the proximity should have torn it to shreds and some of it sucked in by the black hole, but nothing happened.

A burst of radiation has captured the attention of astronomers observing a supper massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. That's the mass of materials - including gases and dusts - that are drawn to the black hole but don't make it past the event horizon. First, the aforementioned S0-2, which is in a long 16-year orbit of Sagittarius A*. Last year, it made its closest approach, coming within 17 light-hours of the black hole.

Researchers suggest either of these encounters could have caused the flash: "Potential physical origins of Sagittarius A*'s unprecedented brightness may be from changes in the accretion-flow as a result of the star S0-2's closest passage to the black hole in 2018 or from a delayed reaction to the approach of the dusty object G2 in 2014". They are now being collected, across a larger range of wavelengths. It's pretty calm for a supermassive black hole, all things considered, but scientists from the Keck Observatory have captured images of our galaxy's black hole getting a lot more feisty than usual. However four other telescopes - including Spitzer, Swift, Chanrdra, and ALMA - have been making observations over the summer, with their data still to be released. Their data could reveal different aspects of the physics of the change in brightness, and help us understand what Sgr A* is up to.

The paper has been accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and is available on arXiv.

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