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Spiralling towards destruction : Giant Gas Cloud will hit Massive Black Hole in 2013
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 04, 2013
Gas Cloud Supermassive Black Hole
Next year will see one of the biggest collisions ever observed by man. A giant gas cloud will hit the massive black hole - known as Sagittarius A - which lies at the centre of our galaxy in 2013.

Actually, the cloud will miss by quite a distance - 24,000,000,000 miles to be semi-exact - and while this is quite a distance (indeed it takes light 36 hours to travel that far), the tidal forces of the black hole will rip the gas cloud apart.

One observer will be Stefan Gillessen, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, Germany, who has been observing the black hole for the last 20 years.

He said: 'So far there were only two stars that came that close to Sagittarius A. They passed unharmed, but this time will be different: the gas cloud will be completely ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole.'

As the cloud gets closer, it's speed gets quicker - it has doubled its speed in just seven years.

The gas cloud spirals towards the black hole, drawn in by an insurmountable amount of gravity

The gas cloud spirals towards the black hole, drawn in by an insurmountable amount of gravity

 

Doomed: The cloud breaks up and elongates as it enters the black hole - at a speed of five million miles an hour

Doomed: The cloud breaks up and elongates as it enters the black hole - at a speed of five million miles an hour

The supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way - our own galaxy - is normally a 'sleeping giant' that's barely detectable. But impact with a gas cloud moving at five million miles per hour ought to change that

Scientists think that the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way may have 'pulled' a young star and its planet-forming disc out of a ring of young stars

 

Astronomers have followed the gas cloud as it plunges towards the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy - it's accelerating at 5,000mph per second per second

Astronomers watch the object dive towards the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy - it's accelerating at 5,000mph per second per second. It will hit in 2013

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope will also watch the black hole.

Colleague Reinhard Genzel at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physicsy, has discovered a unique new object fast approaching the black hole.

Gillessen afd'The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction. But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience,' explains Stefan Gillessen, the lead author of the paper.

The gas cloud will pass at a distance of only about 40 billion kilometers from the event horizon of the black hole, a distance of about 36 light-hours - very close, when it's an encounter with an object as powerful and destructive as a supermassive black hole.

As it approaches its doom, the cloud is glowing under the strong ultraviolet radiation from the hot stars around it in the crowded heart of the Milky Way.

This is the first time ever that the approach of such a doomed cloud to a supermassive black hole has been observed and it is expected to break up completely during 2013

This is the first time ever that the approach of such a doomed cloud to a supermassive black hole has been observed and it is expected to break up completely during 2013

As the cloud gets ever closer to the hungry beast, increasing external pressure will compress the cloud.

At the same time the huge gravitational pull from the black hole, which has a mass four million times that of the Sun, will continue to accelerate the inward motion and stretch the cloud out along its orbit.

The cloud’s edges are already starting to shred and disrupt and it is expected to break up completely over the next few years. The astronomers can already see clear signs of increasing disruption of the cloud over the period between 2008 and 2011.

The material is also expected to get much hotter as it nears the black hole in 2013 and it will probably start to give off X-rays. There is currently little material close to the black hole so the newly-arrived meal will be the dominant fuel for the black hole over the next few years.

One explanation for the formation of the cloud is that its material may have come from nearby young massive stars that are rapidly losing mass due to strong stellar winds. Such stars literally blow their gas away. Colliding stellar winds from a known double star in orbit around the central black hole may have led to the formation of the cloud.

'The next two years will be very interesting and should provide us with extremely valuable information on the behavior of matter around such remarkable massive objects,' says Reinhard Genzel.

 
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