Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole Emitted A Mysterious Flash

Illustration of black hole with accretion disk

Sagittarius A*, the central black hole of the Milky Way is regularly quite subdued, recorded activity levels being low over the course of the past years. Suddenly, the Sagittarius A* grew 75 times brighter, before going back to its normal brightness shortly.

Tuan Do of the University of California Los Angeles told ScienceAlert, 'I was pretty surprised at first and then very excited.

"We can see it changing in real time", Tuan Do, the study's first author and an associated research scientist at UCLA, told Gizmodo.

'Over the next few frames, though, it was clear the source was variable and had to be the black hole.

S0-2 has been spotted a mere 17 light-hours away from the center as recently as previous year, and it's possible that the star's close relationship with the black hole has led to an increase in gas being swallowed up by it, which may have led to a burst of radiation visible using infrared. They believe that the change in activity at the supermassive black hole provoked the increase in brightness. It's under constant observation with instruments like the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii used by the UCLA team. The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we've seen in the infrared so far.

A burst of radiation has captured the attention of astronomers observing a supper massive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun.

A black hole is a zone of spacetime which has gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing can escape from it: particles, radiation (light) are all swallowed never to be seen again.

Scientists say they weren't aware of anything travelling close enough to create that kind of friction, however. If it was a gas cloud, this proximity should have torn it to shreds, and parts of it devoured by the black hole - yet nothing happened. There is a possibility this is a delayed reaction to that event. While the supermassive black hole itself isn't visible, its so-called electromagnetic counterpart can be tracked.

According to the researchers, the sudden flash is as mysterious as it is anomalous, but they hypothesize that it could be spurred by the close approach of a star called S0-2. Last year, it made its closest approach, coming within 17 light-hours of the black hole.

However, the only way to find out is by having more data, which is being collected across a larger range of wavelengths.

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

Other teams and telescopes, such as Spitzer, Swift, Chandra, and ALMA, have also been observing Sagittarius A*. Their data could reveal different aspects of the physics of the change in brightness, and help us understand what Sgr A* is up to.

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