'Mysterious' gas cloud set to collide with supermassive black hole at Milky Way's core

Washington, Jan. 9 : Astronomers have discovered that a mysterious gas cloud about three times the mass of Earth is spiraling towards the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's core.

The core lies more than 25,000 light-years away in the southern summer sky near the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius.
The gas cloud, called G2, was discovered by astronomers in Germany in 2011. They expected it to hit the black hole, called Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star by astronomers), late last year.

That didn't happen, but the cloud continues to drift closer. Astronomers now predict that the impact will occur in the next few months.

The collision will give astronomers a unique opportunity to see how faint supermassive black holes feed and perhaps why they don't consume matter in the same way as their brighter counterparts in other galaxies.

While black holes themselves are invisible and don't permit light to escape, the material falling into them shines in X-rays.

Jon Miller, an associate professor of astronomy at U-M who also works on the project, said that if Sagittarius A* consumes some of G2, we can learn about black holes accreting at low levels -- sneaking midnight snacks, asserting that it is potentially a unique window into how most black holes in the present-day universe accrete.

--ANI (Posted on 09-01-2014)

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