Black Hole Emits Strange Flashes Baffling Astronomers


Well, technically, they aren't watching the black hole itself, which scientists call Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. "I knew nearly right away there was probably something interesting going on with the black hole".

The black hole is also the target of the globe-spanning Event Horizon Telescope, a collaboration that published the first image of a black hole in April.

The fact that it's so incredibly massive means that despite its huge distance from Earth, it might prove to be a good candidate for imaging using current technology. The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we've seen in the infrared so far.

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.

Speaking to ScienceAlert, Tuan Do (an author on the study which spotted the bright light) said the flash could be the result of another star (S02) passing close by, thereby changing the way gas flows into the black hole. "That indicates that perhaps something interesting is happening physically in the region of the black hole". On May 13, the light emanating from Sagittarius A* mysteriously increased by 75 times in brightness over the course of two hours. Scientists have caught it growing seventy-five times brighter and subsiding, which is fairly unusual considering the pacific nature of this black hole.

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The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, just produced an "unprecedented" bright flash-the cause of which is now unknown. The team that discovered this unprecedented flare-up observed Sgr A* for four nights with an infrared camera at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The diffuse X-ray emission is from hot gas captured by the black hole and being pulled inwards.

While this is nothing to worry about - Sagittarius A* is roughly 26,000 light years away from us - it is an exciting mystery for astronomers to resolve.

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun. Meanwhile, many other space telescopes, Spitzer, Chandra, Swift, and ALMA, were also observing the galactic center recently, possibly collecting data that could help explain what Sgr A* is doing. At first, astronomers thought the flaring was caused by the neighboring star SO-2 which has an elliptical orbit close to the black hole, but that hasn't been confirmed. They now put forth the possibility that the show simply might have been delayed rather than cancelled.

The paper has been accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and is available on arXiv.