Astronomers have discovered a bubble of gas orbiting our galaxy’s black hole. Earlier this year, astronomers brought us our first image of Sagittarius A (or Sgr. A* for short). The image was blurry, but for the first time, we could actually see the supermassive black hole that holds the Milky Way together. Now, astronomers say they have discovered something else peculiar about our black hole.
Scientists and astronomers around the world have been watching Sgr. A* for years, trying to decipher exactly how the supermassive black hole works. While we’ve seen reports that our black hole is leaking, other astronomers have worked to watch and study the void that holds our galaxy together. Some of the findings discovered while observing it suggest a bubble of gas is orbiting our black hole.
The bubble was first spotted as astronomers checked out data captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Observatory, otherwise known as ALMA. The data had been captured in tandem with observations carried out by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The researchers found that a “hot spot” or bubble of gas had been found zipping around our galaxy’s black hole.
The origin of the bubble is unclear, but it does appear to be following a stable orbit around Sgr. A*. Further, the researchers say that the bubble appears to be dimming and brightening as it flits around the black hole. The orbit it follows is like that of the planet Mercury. But, because the bubble of gas is moving so quickly, it’s completing that orbit in 70 minutes.
That same size orbit takes Mercury around 88 Earth days to complete, and it moves at nearly 29 miles per second. So, for this bubble of gas to be zipping around our galaxy’s black hole at such an immense speed, astronomers believe it must be traveling around 30 percent the speed of light. Whether Sgr. A* will eat through this bubble of gas in the future remains to be seen.
For now, scientists will continue watching as the bubble of gas flits around our galaxy’s black hole and try to understand better where the bubble came from. It’s possible the bubble was caused by bursts or flares of x-ray energy ejected from the black hole, but scientists can’t say for sure. At least not yet.
A paper on the researcher’s findings has been published in Astronomy & Physics.
Looking for more space news? Skywatchers can peer into the sky later this month to view the annual Orionid meteor shower. Plus, scientists now say that climate change on Mars could have been caused by ancient microbes now burrowed deep below the surface.