Astronomers Spot Mysterious Flash From Our Galaxy's Supermassive Black Hole

What made the black hole turn bright so suddenly

What made the black hole turn bright so suddenly

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.

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

The phenomenon was captured by scientists using the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii and was recorded over a four night period. Their findings so far are now in press with The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 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. Nearly 26,000 light years from Earth, Sagittarius A* - or Sgr A* - is typically fairly restrained as supermassive black holes go, but this past summer that has all been flipped. Black holes themselves don't emit any radiation that can be detected by our current instruments, but the stuff nearby does when the black hole's gravitational forces generate vast friction, in turn producing radiation. Normally, the brightness of Sgr A* flickers a bit like a candle, varying from minutes to hours.

Astronomers have learned a lot about the universe and our place in it thanks to high-powered telescopes, but there's clearly still a lot out there that we have yet to even imagine. Another cause could be a change to its accretion state-how the black hole is drawing matter inwards. 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.

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun. There is a possibility this is a delayed reaction to that event.

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 past year, coming within 17 light hours of the event horizon. They are now being collected, across a larger range of wavelengths. 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.

As researchers pore over more data for answers, another teams like those at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA, will also take a look as their telescopes were also observing the black hole throughout the last several months. 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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