Gas cloud's fate could reveal information on growth of supermassive black holes

April 4, 2014 by Megan Fellman
A simulation of the gas cloud G2’s encounter with the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. The blue lines mark the orbits of the so-called “S” stars that are in close orbits around the black hole. Credit: ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann

(Phys.org) —Right now a doomed gas cloud is edging ever closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. These black holes feed on gas and dust all the time, but astronomers rarely get to see mealtime in action.

Northwestern University's Daryl Haggard has been closely watching the little cloud, called G2, and the black hole, called Sgr A*, as part of a study that should eventually help solve one of the outstanding questions surrounding : How exactly do they achieve such supermassive proportions?

She will discuss her latest data at a press briefing, "Advances in Astrophysics," to be held at 11 a.m. EDT Sunday, April 6, in Gwinnett Room of the Savannah International Convention Center. The briefing is part of the American Physical Society (APS) April Meeting in Savannah, Ga.

The closest approach between the black hole and is predicted to occur any day now. Haggard has been using two world-class observatories, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Very Large Array, to gather data on this potentially spectacular encounter.

"Our most recent Chandra observation does not show enhanced emission in the X-rays," Haggard said. "From the X-ray perspective, the gas cloud is late to the party, but it remains to be seen whether G2 is fashionably late or a no show."

At the APS meeting, she also will make a presentation, "Hot News from the Milky Way's Central Black Hole," as part of the session "Hot Topics in Astrophysics" from 3:30 to 5:18 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 6, in Chatham Ballroom C of the convention center.

"This work is fascinating because it will teach us about the growth and feeding of ," said Haggard, a postdoctoral fellow in Northwestern's Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). "We know they are big, and we know they are out there—in vast numbers—but we aren't sure in detail how they get their mass.

"Do they grow rapidly when they are young, like our kids do, or do they grow in fits and starts, whenever fuel becomes available? In watching the encounter between Sgr A* and

G2 we may catch a in the act of snatching its next meal," she said.

In her presentation, Haggard will show recent data from Chandra (X-rays) and the VLA (radio waves), including the largest flare ever seen from Sgr A*.

"Sgr A* and the newly discovered magnetic neutron star, SGR J1745-29, which appears to be in orbit around the black hole, are dishing out lots of interesting science," Haggard said. "We've detected the brightest X-ray flare yet observed from Sgr A* and gathered data that are causing us to overhaul of our understanding of the neutron star population in the galactic center."

Explore further: NASA'S NuSTAR reveals flare from Milky Way's black hole

Related Stories

NASA'S NuSTAR reveals flare from Milky Way's black hole

October 24, 2012

NASA's newest set of X-ray eyes in the sky, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), has caught its first look at the giant black hole parked at the center of our galaxy. The observations show the typically mild-mannered ...

Detecting dusty clouds and stars in our galaxy in a new way

January 7, 2013

The center of our Milky Way galaxy is a wondrous place full of huge star clusters, dust clouds, magnetic filaments and a supermassive black hole. But it can be a confusing place, too, posing challenges to astronomers trying ...

Swift catches X-ray action at Milky Way's center

January 8, 2014

(Phys.org) —Recent observations by NASA's Swift spacecraft have provided scientists a unique glimpse into the activity at the center of our galaxy and led to the discovery of a rare celestial entity that may help them test ...

Black hole makes 'String of Pearls' clusters

April 1, 2014

(Phys.org) —Huge young star clusters resembling a string of pearls around a black hole in the centre of a galaxy 120 million light-years away have been discovered by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology.

Recommended for you

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GSwift7
5 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2014
From the X-ray perspective, the gas cloud is late to the party


I'll be keeping my eye out for a more detailed story about this. I'm sure there will be one.

Damn, Savannah is only a couple hours away, and it's in the 80's here this week. Those people couldn't ask for better weather for the conference. I wish I could spend this weekend in Savannah. I haven't been to Paula Deen's restaurant in a while. I have to help with a fundraiser for a baby that needs a heart transplant all weekend, so no day trips for me this week. Oh well, Jeagermeister girls, Hooters girls, nascar cars and drivers, monster trucks, rock bands and lots of bikers will probably be more fun than astrophysics anyway. :)
katesisco
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2014
Waiting for Godot. G2 will add to the gas creating the new hot blue stars. Only if there is a small LT(light terminus) starbit inside the gas will there be any jetting.
SGR J 1745-29 aka magnatar may be the product of the larger LT (light terminus) starbody aka black hole Sag *A.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (6) Apr 06, 2014
How can a real object, the "gas" cloud, affect a completely fictional object, the SMBH?
barakn
5 / 5 (3) Apr 06, 2014
Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (6) Apr 07, 2014
Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."


I didn't say there was no object, said SMBH are fictional objects.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2014
@Mr Swift ... The idea of looking these people in the eye to assess if they truly believe SMBH's actually exist is a tempting reason to visit. Hey though, it's a long way away but girls, cars, trucks bands and beer ... Mmmmm.

I have to help with a fundraiser for a baby that needs a heart transplant all weekend


As an aside, are you fundraising with a website for info n donations? I would believe the powers that be here wouldn't mind if you had a genuine appeal and posted a link. I'd chip in a few bucks for a good cause.
vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2014
Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."


a dozen? Isn't the whole Milky way swirling around it? Anyhow, I get your point.

Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."


I didn't say there was no object, said SMBH are fictional objects.


Absolutely spot on! There is no SMBH there, only a supermassive object with a whole lot of gravity but we can't see it, cuz it's black and stuff get sucked in there, like a hole. I suggest we call it a hole-like super massive black object.
IMP-9
4 / 5 (4) Apr 07, 2014
Isn't the whole Milky way swirling around it?


No. Sag A* is incredibly massive in terms of it's size but it is only a small fraction of the mass of the entire galaxy bulge. It can dominate it's neck of the woods but not on larger scales. The galaxy orbits the rest of the galaxy.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2014
As an aside, are you fundraising with a website for info n donations?


Nah, strictly an old fashioned redneck thing. Thanks though. It ended up being very successful. We sold out of almost everything and had to go buy extra supplies half way through, so it was a big win. My GF tends bar at a biker/redneck bar, so we help out with a lot of these things.

We have a few T-shirts from one of the motorcycle clubs (Warlocks) left over . They come with a free Harley Davidson motorcycle. Adult medium - $18,000, adult large - $20,000. Surely your wife wouldn't mind if you bought a t-shirt. :)

I suggest we call it a hole-like super massive black object


lol. Beware! You must not speak of the Object-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named!
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) Apr 07, 2014
Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."


a dozen? Isn't the whole Milky way swirling around it? Anyhow, I get your point.

Explain how the movements of dozens of stars are affected by a "fictional object."


I didn't say there was no object, said SMBH are fictional objects.


Absolutely spot on! There is no SMBH there, only a supermassive object with a whole lot of gravity but we can't see it, cuz it's black and stuff get sucked in there, like a hole. I suggest we call it a hole-like super massive black object.

Or we could call it exactly what it looks like and behaves like, a plasmoid. Such a notion would rip the still beating black heart that lies deep in the soul of astronomy.
http://www.holosc...tronomy/

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.