The galaxy. It's a pretty staggering phenomenon, isn't it?
An astounding array of gas, dust, and stars, our galaxy is the very thing that holds our solar system together... with a little help from our old friend gravity, of course.
But, out of all the beautiful things our galaxy presents to us, one of the more ominous things is the supermassive black hole situated right in the middle of it. Now, just the idea of black holes, in general, has scared people for decades, and the thought of them expanding and swallowing our planet up simply isn't worth thinking about.
But when they light up out of nowhere? That's when people really start worrying.
Well, this year, scientists have been left completely baffled after the supermassive black hole sandwiched in the middle of our galaxy mysteriously lit up for no apparent reason.
The blackhole's bizarre activity was luckily caught on camera, and the footage released is breathtaking... if not a little bit creepy at the same time.
Out of all the phenomenons in our galaxy...Black holes are by far the spookiest of them all.
But what exactly is a black hole?Warning: This article is going to get real scientific real quick... but I'll try to make it somewhat understandable, even if you do know anything about space, I promise. NASA's short description of a black hole is "an area of such immense gravity that nothing -- not even light -- can escape from it."
Black holes are actually invisible to the naked eye...Because no light can escape them. In more complex terms, the immense gravity in the center of a black hole pulls any surrounding light into it. But, luckily for all the astronomers out there, scientific telescopes with special tools were designed which can help to find and locate the many black holes in our universe.
And these tools have assisted scientists with learning more about these eerie entities.Scientists have been able to determine how big black holes are, different types, and how they are even formed in the first place.
It turns out that black holes come in all shapes and sizes.Scientists currently believe that most black holes were formed when the universe began and can vary from being as small as a single atom to being even larger than our sun.
Most black holes are larger than our planet.Quite a daunting thought, isn't it? This type of black hole is known to scientists as a "stellar" black hole and, according to NASA, its mass can be up to twenty times more than the mass of the sun.
Yet, unbelievably, these aren't even the biggest type of black hole in existence.Nope. There is such a thing as a "supermassive" black hole. Because, well... it says it in the name, doesn't it?
Supermassive black holes have amazed scientists for years.To be classed as "supermassive," a black hole needs to contain between a million and a billion times more mass than a typical stellar black hole. To help break it down, NASA created a supercomputer simulation of a black hole. And even if you're like me and don't understand astronomy in the slightest, you have to admit that the video is pretty mesmirizing.
At least one supermassive black hole exists in every galaxy.And they're massive. Obviously. These black holes have masses that total to more than 1 million suns put together and scientists have found proof that every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its center.
So, of course, our galaxy has one too.The supermassive black hole that resides in the center of our Milky Way galaxy is called Sagittarius A* (Sag A* for short). It has a mass equal to about 4 million suns and would fit inside a very large ball that could hold a few million Earths. Yeah, this is the real deal.
Saggitarius A* is quite a distance from planet Earth...Nearly 26,000 light-years away, to be exact. But still. The idea of something that could swallow a million planet Earths residing in the same galaxy as us can be a little unnerving, to say the least.
Though no light can possibly escape its boundaries...Scientists have been observing the activity of Saggitarius A* since its discovery in 1974, and have been closely monitoring its interactions with the bright stars and dust clouds that surround it.
Saggitarius A* has been pretty well behaved throughout the last few decades.What a good supermassive black hole. Sag A* has always remained relatively quiet and, rather than spewing constant light and heat into the surrounding universe like other black holes of its type, has had minimal fluctuations in brightness and energy.
Until now.Sag A* has apparently gotten bored of the quiet life and earlier this year decided to light up out of nowhere, startling and, more worryingly, completely baffling scientists.
On the evening of May 13th this year, scientists witnessed something spectacular.UCLA astronomer, Tuan Do, and his colleagues were watching Sag A* using the Keck Telescope - a two-telescope astronomical observatory located on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Saggitarius A* suddenly glowed out of nowhere...And, in a period of just 2 hours, the astronomers watched in amazement (and surely a little bit of fear...) as the supermassive black hole became seventy-five times brighter than it ever has before.
It reached record-breaking levels.According to Tuan Do's study, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole “reached much brighter flux levels in 2019 than ever measured at near-infrared wavelengths."
Though the scientists weren't initially alarmed by the fluctuation in light...They were actually excited. "I was pretty surprised at first and then very excited," astronomer, Tuan Do of the University of California Los Angeles, told ScienceAlert.
They actually mistook it for a star."The black hole was so bright I at first mistook it for the star S0-2, because I had never seen Sagittarius A* that bright." Do explained. "Over the next few frames, though, it was clear the source was variable and had to be the black hole. I knew almost right away there was probably something interesting going on with the black hole." "Interesting" is putting it mildly, don't you think?
The footage captured is simply incredible.
Here's a timelapse of images over 2.5 hr from May from @keckobservatory of the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. The… https://t.co/XL6stP807v— Tuan Do (@Tuan Do)1565488428.0
But what exactly was going on with the black hole?That's the question burning on everyone's lips right now. Science Alert explains that, normally, the brightness of Sag A* flickers like a candle, varying from minutes to hours. But when the surroundings of a black hole flare that brightly, it's a sign that something may have gotten close enough to be grabbed by its gravity.
One possibility is that a gas cloud could have gotten too close.But when I say "too close," I mean within thirty-six light-years of the black hole. But scientists argue that, 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.
Though Do and his team guess that it could have been a star.Do and his colleagues speculate that the S0-2 star, which is about fifteen times as massive as the sun, may have been the object that juiced up Sag A*. In 2018, S0-2 came within seventeen light hours of the supermassive black hole, and that close pass may have disturbed gases at the event horizon enough to cause the May 2019 brightening event.
And, just to make this even more mind boggling...
@heyprofbow @keckobservatory Depending on your point of view, this happened either on May 13, 2019 UT or 26,000 years ago.— Tuan Do (@Tuan Do)1565569537.0