Around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, astronomers observe a hot gas bubble spinning clockwise.

Kutl Ahmedia

Thursday, astronomers announced the discovery of a hot gas bubble swirling clockwise around the black hole at the center of our galaxy at "mind-boggling" speeds.

It is believed that the discovery of the bubble, which only lasted a few hours, will provide insight into the operation of these invisible, ravenous galactic monsters.

The supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* lurks in the center of the Milky Way some 27,000 light-years from Earth, and its strong gravitational pull is responsible for the unique spiral structure of our home galaxy.

The first-ever image of Sagittarius A* was revealed in May by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, a global network of radio dishes designed to detect light disappearing into black holes.

Maciek Wielgus, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, said that one of these dishes, the ALMA radio telescope in the Andes Mountains of Chile, detected something "very strange" in the Sagittarius A* data.

Wielgus told AFP that just minutes before ALMA's radio data gathering began, the Chandra Space Telescope detected a "big surge" in X-rays.

According to a new study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, this energy burst, believed to be akin to solar flares on the Sun, caused a hot bubble of gas to spiral around the black hole.

Wielgus, the study's principal author, explained that the orbit of the gas bubble, also known as a hot spot, was comparable to Mercury's journey around the Sun.

However, while Mercury requires 88 days to complete this journey, the bubble completed it in only 70 minutes. This indicates that it traveled at around 30% of the speed of light.

Wielgus characterized the phenomenon as "mind-boggling" when he stated, "It's an absurdly fast-spinning bubble."

A CRAZY theory

Through their data, the scientists were able to trace the bubble for around one and a half hours; it was unlikely to have survived more than a few orbits before being destroyed.

Wielgus stated that the observation supported the MAD theory. "Mad as hell, as mad as magnetically arrested discs," he stated.

It is believed that the phenomena occurs when a magnetic field near the mouth of a black hole is so powerful that it prevents matter from being sucked within.

However, matter continues to accumulate, resulting in a "flux eruption" that ruptures magnetic fields and generates a burst of energy, as stated by Wielgus.

By understanding how these magnetic fields function, scientists want to construct a model of the mysterious forces that regulate black holes.

Magnetic fields may also aid in determining the rate at which black holes spin, which may be of particular importance for Sagittarius A*.

While Sagittarius A* has four million times the mass of the Sun, it only emits the light of around 100 Suns, which Wielgus describes as "very unimpressive" for a supermassive black hole.

It is the universe's weakest supermassive black hole, and we've only seen it because it's so close to us.

Wielgus stated that it is probably a good thing that our galaxy's center has a "starving black hole."

"Living near to a quasar," which can emit as much light as billions of suns, "would be a bad thing," he continued.


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