The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole just produced a brilliant, mysterious flash

The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole just produced a brilliant, mysterious flash

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.

Tuan and colleagues managed to catch a glimpse of the rare phenomena from the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii while it was occurring and posted a timelapse of the observation on Twitter.

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 team there managed to capture the odd brightening and condensed two hours into a few seconds timelapse.

That brightly glowing dot right at the beginning of the video is the dust and gas swirling around Sgr A*. 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.

When we view that radiation with a telescope using the infrared range, it translates as brightness.

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. Normally, the brightness of Sgr A* flickers a bit like a candle, varying from minutes to hours. 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. But no one was aware that anything was drawing close enough to be swallowed by the black hole. There's also a gas cloud called G2 that swing around Sagittarius A* in 2014. If it was a gas cloud, this proximity should have torn it to shreds, and parts of it devoured by the black hole - yet nothing happened. There were no cosmic fireworks at the time, but we could be seeing a delayed reaction.

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A burst of radiation has captured the attention of astronomers observing a supper massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. That's S0-2, a star on a long, looping, 16-year elliptical orbit around Sgr A*. It made its closest approach yet a year ago, coming within 17 light hours of the event horizon.

Do told Science Alert, 'One of the possibilities, is that the star S0-2, when it passed close to the black hole previous year, changed the way gas flows into the black hole, and so more gas is falling on it, leading it to become more variable'.

The only way to find out is having more data.

Researchers say, though the event much brighter than any other observed in human history, it may have been even brighter than the data lets on since its peak brightness was captured at the start of the telescope's imaging. Keck will be providing data for another few weeks, Do says, though after that point the Galactic center will not be at the right angle for observation again until 2020.

"I'm eagerly awaiting their results", Do said.

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