We now know that there is at least one supermassive black hole in the center of every galaxy. Over years of observations, the one at the center of the Milkyway doesn’t “eat” that much.
While the black hole, named Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star), is 4 million times as massive as the sun, it is unusually inactive for its size, devouring very little of the surrounding gas and other galactic material.
Using 3 million seconds of observations taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a team of researchers from MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has analyzed the activity around Sagittarius A*.
The team found that material is being ejected before reaching the black hole: “The black hole doesn’t have a chance to do its meat-grinder thing and turn that matter into energy,” says Joey Neilsen, who contributed to the research as a postdoc at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “All of that stuff basically escapes before the black hole can destroy it.”
The observations show that there is plenty of material available for the black hole to eat, but the black hole itself doesn’t seem to be able to get to it, like a fork full of food, just out of reach. The likeliest explanation is that the gaseous material ejects itself in the form of hot wind, escaping before the black hole can devour it.
“We think most of the energy, or a lot of it, is going toward pushing the gas away from the black hole and not letting it fall in,” says Mike Nowak, a research scientist at MIT Kavli. “Now we have a better understanding of what parts are active, and what aren’t.”
Other scientists theorize that this is just a dormant stage for the black hole and that, at some point in the future, Sagittarius A* will start devouring with gusto again.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +