Black hole at centre of Milky Way emits mysterious light: Scientists
An image released by NASA Jan. 5, 2010, shows Sagittarius A, the super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy made from data provided by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (AP / NASA)
Published Friday, August 16, 2019 1:57PM EDT
Astronomers have released a time lapse video depicting record amounts of light swirling around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy.
The “unprecedented” observation was made in May when researchers at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii witnessed the central region of the Milky Way galaxy known as “Sagittarius A*” (or Sgr A* for short) grow 75 times brighter in a span of less than three hours.
“It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!” wrote astronomer Tuan Do in a tweet sharing the time lapse video. Do’s team published a paper earlier this month about the discovery in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Researchers were unable to conclusively say what led to record levels of light near the supermassive black hole, but offered some guesses, including light from a passing star in 2018, or a “delayed reaction” to the approach of an object in 2014. Black holes don’t emit light themselves. Instead, we are able to observe their shadows as light escapes into them.
“The brightness variations come from the light of hot gas falling towards the black hole, before it crosses the event horizon,” wrote Do.
Such was the case in April when an international group of researchers released the first real image of a supermassive black hole.
Do assured Twitter users on Wednesday that Earthlings had nothing to worry about as it “will not affect the Earth.”
“While it is very bright compared to historical data, it is not enough to affect us,” he wrote. “Enjoy the fireworks and we hope to learn some cool black hole physics!”