‘Unprecedented’: Supermassive Black Hole at Our Galaxy’s Center Just Flashed Like Crazy

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

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

Consequently, the X-ray emission from material near Sgr A* is remarkably faint, like that of most of the giant black holes in galaxies in the nearby universe.

In news that reads like the beginning of a dire science fiction novel Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, has emitted a large burst of infrared radiation brighter than anything ever produced by that black hole. Over the next few frames, though, it was clear the source was variable and had to be the black hole. They hoped to test Einstein's theory of how gravity works, called general relativity, and found that the black hole did indeed warp the star's light as predicted by the theory. It's usually very dim, but astronomers recently saw Sagittarius A* flare up - in fact, it just got brighter than we've ever seen it.

The galaxy, Holm 15A, sits around 700 million light-years away, making it somewhat hard to study in detail, but what scientists know for sure is that the black hole in its heart is the largest ever discovered.

The team of scientists observed the galactic centre for four nights this year using an infrared camera on the Keck II Telescope. At its peak, Sagittarius A* was 75 times brighter than usual in infrared.

While a black hole itself does not release light or any other energy, the periphery does as the enormous forces involved grind on what's in the accretion disk. Currently, we do not possess the technology necessary to detect radiation emitted directly by black holes, but we can observe the effects its gravitational force has on the surrounding objects, causing vast friction, which produces radiation.

"It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!"

While black holes regularly flicker, fluctuating slightly in brightness from moment to moment, large flashes like the one observed by scientists in May indicate that a larger object has been caught up by the black hole's gravitational pull. There's also a gas cloud called G2 that swing around Sagittarius A* in 2014. In fact, researchers believe the black hole in Holm 15A is at least 10,000 times as massive as our home galaxy's black hole. First, the aforementioned S0-2, which is in a long 16-year orbit of Sagittarius A*. While the supermassive black hole itself isn't visible, its so-called electromagnetic counterpart can be tracked. Last year, it made its closest approach, coming within 17 light-hours of the black hole.

Currently, scientists are gathering as much information as they can. 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.

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

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