Our Galaxy's Supermassive Black Hole Has Emitted a Mysteriously Bright Flare

13 Août, 2019, 15:11 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Mysterious light flash seen from black hole Sag A* at the heart of the Milky Way

The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, just produced an "unprecedented" bright flash-the cause of which is now unknown.

The huge celestial body is normally relatively dim, which makes a sudden spike in its brightness an outstanding event, astronomers noted.

While it is normal for the supermassive black hole to fluctuate slightly in brightness, the researchers found Sagittarius A*-which is four million times the mass of the sun-had gotten 75 times brighter than normal.

Astronomer Tuan Do from the University of California, Los Angeles told ScienceAlert in an interview, "I was pretty surprised at first and then very excited".

The Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole always varies in brightness, but this level of infrared light has never been detected before.

An attempt to prove Einstein's hallmark theory of gravity revealed something even freakier: an unprecedented flash from the black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

'I knew nearly right away there was probably something interesting going on with the black hole'.

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

According to the paper, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, statistical models used to understand the black hole may have to be revised in order to account for the unusual variation. The odd brightening took place on May 13, and the team managed to capture it in a timelapse, two hours condensed down to a few seconds.

Black holes are objects so dense that beyond a zone called the event horizon, their gravitational field warps space to the point that light can't escape.

When we view that radiation with a telescope using the infrared range, it translates as brightness. It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!,' said Do in a tweet. However, the objects and material close to them do-and changes to the black hole can excite matter nearby, allowing scientists to detect changes taking place.

The team is busily gathering data to try and narrow it down, but there are two immediate possibilities.

But - have a look at the timelapse again. 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. 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.

Scientists have been observing Sgr A* for years now, most recently including data from the Event Horizon Telescope and the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus. "Additional multi-wavelength observations will be necessary to both monitor Sagittarius A* for potential state changes and to constrain the physical processes responsible for its current variability".

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