Black Hole at Center of Milky Way to Consume Approaching Gas Cloud

Posted on October 22, 2012

Simulations of G2 orbit around Milky Way Central Black Hole

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory report that Sgr A*, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, will soon be eating a snack. The snack is G2, an approaching cloud of dust and gas. The supercomputer simulations show some of G2 will survive, but it will be left with a different shape after its encounter with the black hole. The image above shows simulations of G2 on its orbit around the Milky Way central black hole. You can view a larger version of the image here.

The findings are the work of computational physicist Peter Anninos and astrophysicist Stephen Murray, both of AX division within the Weapons and Complex Integration Directorate (WCI), along with their former postdoc Chris Fragile, now an associate professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and his student, Julia Wilson. An article describing the simulation research will appear in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The scientists say our galaxy's center black hole is huge, but note that some galaxies have black holes thousands of times bigger than ours. They also say our black hole does not eat very frequently.

Murray said in the release, "While this one is 3-to-4 million times as big as our sun, it has been relatively quiet. It's not getting fed very much."

Both the composition and origin of the G2 gas cloud are unknown.

Murray says, "The speculation ranges from it having been an old star that had kind of a burp and lost some of its outer atmosphere, to something that was trying to be a planet and couldn't quite manage it because the environment was too hot."

This image below is a three-dimensional, volume visualization spanning the period 2010 to 2020, of G2 as it approaches the Sgr A* black hole.

G2 Approaching Black Hole Vizualization

Photo: Photo courtesy of M. Schartmann and L. Calcada/ European Southern Observatory and Max-Planck-Institut fur Extraterrestrische Physik