Tags: black | hole | gas | cloud

Black Hole Gas Cloud Spotted in 2011 Is Being Pulled Apart

Thursday, 18 Jul 2013 10:07 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A massive gas cloud near a large black hole at the heart of the Milky Way has been spotted by astronomers using a telescope in Chile.

The space cloud, which has been named "G2," will likely be torn apart over the next 12 months as it approaches the galactic drain, according to observers, the Huffington Post reported.

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The gas cloud, which was originally circular, was first identified by scientists in 2011. It has since been stretched by the black hole's gravitational pull and now resembles an enormous piece of caramel being pulled apart amidst the stars.

"Like an unfortunate astronaut in a science fiction film, we see that the cloud is now being stretched so much that it resembles spaghetti," said Stefan Gillessen, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, who led the observing team. "This means that it probably doesn't have a star in it. At the moment we think that the gas probably came from the stars we see orbiting the black hole."

Approximately 25,000 light years from the earth, the Milky Way's black hole has an estimated mass four times that of the sun, according to Space.com.

The gas cloud itself is estimated to be about 15 billion miles from the black hole, which is far too close for comfort, according to Gillessen, who claims the cloud is "barely escaping falling right in."

"The cloud is so stretched that the close approach is not a single event but rather a process that extends over a period of at least one year," Gillessen said.

According to researchers, the cloud is traveling in our direction at a speed of 6.2 million miles per hour, while its tail is traveling at a speed of just under 1.6 million miles per hour, due to the black hole's gravitational forces.

The origin of the gas cloud remains a mystery.

Astronomers initially believed the space cloud was created by "stellar winds from the stars orbiting the black hole," states the press release from Gillessen and his colleagues published by EurekAlert.org.

Other gas cloud origination possibilities include it resulting from a "jet from the galactic center," or the possibility that "a star was at the center of the cloud." In such a case, the gas would have been emitted from a planet-forming disc of gas or wind from the star itself, the statement notes.

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