Nov 06, 2014 07:03 PM EST
Nearly every Sci-Fi film about deep space has warned about the perils of coming up against a black hole. And if there's anything we've learned, or that astronomy has taught us, it's that these supermassive vortex's have quite a strong pull-something most planets and stars cannot bare to go through. But as it so happens, it turns out that cosmic coupling may be one solution for solar systems looking to avoid certain death.
At the heart of our very own Milky Way galaxy lies a black hole with a mass nearly 4.3 million times that of our Sun. It's a strong nexus, which you can imagine is quite messy as it pulls in stars and comets into the abyss. But in spite of its tight orbit and beckoning pull, astronomers discovered this past summer that it's not always a death sentence for every object it encounters.
Years ago, astronomers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory discovered a small anomaly, a blip of light, which they believed to be a small hydrogen gas cloud that was on its way to center of the black hole. Designated as "G2" the cosmic gas cloud has been tracked since 2012, and earlier this summer, as the anomaly approached a mere 30 billion kilometers from the black hole, researchers expected fireworks near the 4th of July and then for the gas cloud to disappear. But imaging in the near-infrared part of the spectrum has revealed that not only did the anomaly survive, it was unaffected by the close encounter-and this has set researchers on a new train of thought.
"Clearly it wasn't just some cloud of gas" lead researcher of the report detailing the event this week in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, Andrea Ghez says. "If it were simply a cloud of gas, it wouldn't have enough gravity to stay together in the black hole's tidal field."
So they developed alternative hypotheses. One assumed that the anomaly was indeed a gas cloud, but one that lies as the outer atmosphere of a supermassive star system. The star would only have to be twice the size of our Sun, however, in this part of space it'd be hundred times larger than astronomers would expect. The alternative, however an unlikely situation, appears to fit the bill for what researchers are seeing.
Though imaging techniques to date have revealed little more than what appeared to be an average dust cloud, images from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii show that G2 may indeed be a cosmic duo on a mission of survival.
Ghez and her colleagues now believe that the rare anomaly is really a pair of binary stars, hidden by gas and dust as it approached the massive black hole. In spite of being cloaked in dust, Ghez beleices that the binary stars, once moving in tandem, merged to become a new extremely supermassive star, much like a new class of stars they're seeing at the epicenter of the Milky Way.
"G2 is not alone" Ghez says. "We're seeing a new class of stars near the [center of the Milky Way] as a consequence of the black hole."
"And we are [now] seeing phenomena about black holes that you can't watch anywhere else in the universe."
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