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The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy is about to devour a mysterious object

The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy is about to devour a mysterious object

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Black holes remain mysterious objects and their behavior is a constant source of question, especially when they engulf a celestial body. Recently, scientists have been intrigued by an object close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which has evolved exponentially in a relatively short time, relentlessly approaching the black hole. Researchers estimate that it will eventually disappear by 2036. The object, named X7, may be a cloud of dust and gas created during the collision of two stars.

The idea of ​​a celestial body so dense and massive that no light can escape has been around for centuries. Black holes were predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. When a massive star dies, it sometimes leaves behind a small, dense core. If the mass of this core is three times greater than the mass of the sun, the equations show that the force of gravity overcomes all other forces and produces a black hole.

Scientists cannot directly observe black holes with telescopes that detect X-rays, light, or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. However, we can infer the existence of black holes and study them by observing their effect on other nearby matter.

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Regarding our galaxy, the Milky Way, we know that there is a supermassive black hole at its center, Sagittarius A*. It is confirmed by its interaction with its environment. Recemment, une equipe de l’UCLA (University of California in Los Angeles) a rapporté la prochaine collision, d’ici 2036, entre ce dernier et un objet nommé X7, grace aux données issues de more années de surveillance de son comportement pres du Black hole. Publication of the team’s work in the journal Astrophysical Journal.

Rapid evolution over 20 years, witness the gravitational pull of a black hole

First discovered in 2004 and then named in 2007, X7 has been tracked for two decades by the Galaxy Orbit Center Initiative. The research team from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii, and from UCLA investigated its development with high-resolution, angular, near-infrared images captured by the Keck Observatory’s powerful adaptive optics system. It found that X7 had been stretched so intensely over this period that it is now 3,000 times the Earth-Sun distance (or 3,000 astronomical units) in length.

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Images were taken using the Keck Observatory’s NIRC2 instrument and Adaptive Optics showing the evolution of X7 between 2002 and 2021. © A. Ciurlo et al., 2023 / UCLA GCOI / WM Keck Observatory

Anna Ciorlo, a research assistant at UCLA and lead author of the study, says in A communication :” It started as a comet, and people thought it might have reached this shape because of stellar winds or jets of particles coming from the black hole. But since we’ve followed it for 20 years, we’ve seen it grow “.

Concretely, from their analyses, although the origin of X7 is still a matter of debate, the researchers suggest that it could be a cloud of dust and gas emitted during the collision of two stars.

Granted, the X7 displays some of the same characteristics as the other objects orbiting Sgr A*, but the X7’s shape and speed have changed dramatically. As it gets closer to the black hole, X7 is moving faster, at speeds of about 2,520 km/h.

Anna Ciorlo explains: in the process [collision de deux étoiles]the merged star is hidden within a shell of dust and gas, which could match the description of G objects. “.

Announce early disappearance

It should be known that X7 has a mass of about 50 Earths and is located in such an orbital path around Sgr A * that it would take 170 years for it to sink there. But based on its current trajectory and evolution, the team estimates that X7 will make its approach to Sgr A* much faster than theory predicts, around 2036, and then disappear.

video Artist’s impression of X7 approaching, circa 2036, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. © WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

in a second communicationAnna Ciorlo notes: This is a unique opportunity to observe the effects of black hole tidal forces at high resolution, giving us insight into the physics of the extreme environment at the galactic center. “.

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Tidal forces are the gravitational force that pulls an object approaching a black hole; The side of the object that is closer to the black hole is pulled in with a much greater force than the side further away from it. Co-author Randy Campbell, director of science operations at the Keck Observatory, explains: It is exciting to see significant changes in the shape and dynamics of X7 in such detail over a relatively short period of time, as the gravitational forces of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy act on this object. “.

The research team will continue to monitor X7’s dramatic changes using the Keck Observatory as the black hole’s gravitational force pulls it apart.

source : Astrophysical Journal