Another Black Hole is Discovered at the Center of the Milky Way

Friday, 08 September 2017 - 7:20PM
Space
Black Holes
Friday, 08 September 2017 - 7:20PM
Another Black Hole is Discovered at the Center of the Milky Way
NASA
It's long been established that, deep at the heart of our constantly swirling galaxy, there exists a fantastically powerful supermassive black hole. Scientists have been studying the gravitational effects of Sagittarius A* (such as it is named) for years, and much of our understanding about how matter in the Milky Way behaves comes from this research.

As it turns out, though, this may not be the only black hole in the center of the galaxy. Researchers from Keio University in Japan have published a paper detailing a possible second black hole not far from Sagittarius A*, in a dust cloud where unusual gravitational effects have been observed.

This newly discovered black hole is interesting in two ways: firstly, it's a very unusual size, and second, it may well be on a collision course with good old Sagittarius A*.

The scientists noted several telltale signs of a black hole within the CO–0.40–0.22 molecular cloud near to Sagittarius A*. What's interesting is that these signs - primarily centered around the cloud's unusual density and unique movement speed compared to its surroundings - suggest that if a black hole is present, it's of an "intermediate" size, rather than being particularly small or large.

Speaking to Space.com, Keio University researcher Tomoharu Oka said:

Opening quote
"This is the first detection of an intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the Milky Way. This may be the second-largest black hole in the Milky Way after Sagittarius A*."
Closing quote


 
Generally speaking, this doesn't happen - smaller black holes are created by individual stars collapsing, and the prevailing theory is that supermassive black holes grow over time as small black holes merge together and gather other material (mostly by eating anything in their way). Up until now, though, there's not been any evidence of the missing link between smaller and larger black holes, which makes this new discovery very significant.

It's also interesting to note that eventually, thanks to the pull of Sagittarius A*, this new black hole may be sucked right to the center of the galaxy, where the pair could merge together to create an even bigger black hole. Astronomers have recently witnessed evidence of black holes orbiting each other outside of our galaxy, but having a pair far closer to home would be fascinating from a research perspective.

It's unlikely that humans will still exist by the time that these two black holes actually meet, which is a shame, because based on all known simulations, it'll produce one heck of a light show. Here's hoping no planets nearby are inhabited by sentient lifeforms, because if so, they're in for the ride of their lives, followed by an incredibly painful finale.
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