Black Holes Can Turn Neptune-Like Planets Into 'Super-Earths'

Tuesday, 27 February 2018 - 6:32PM
Space
Black Holes
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 - 6:32PM
Black Holes Can Turn Neptune-Like Planets Into 'Super-Earths'
< >
M. Weiss/CfA
Supermassive black holes continue to surprise us. These star-eating monstrosities often act erratically, making things particularly interesting for any star or planet that's unlucky enough to get caught in their sphere of influence.

A new study has found evidence that even planets that are far enough away to avoid being crushed by a supermassive black hole's intense gravity will still see effects from these beasts. According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), there are planets in the center of our own galaxy which have likely transformed from gaseous balls (similar to Neptune) into rocky worlds that are more like our own Earth.



It seems that the gravitational pull of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way, may strip planets of their thick atmosphere and turn them into "Super Earths" - thus called because their environment is very similar to that of Earth, but they're a lot larger than the planet we live on.

Avi Loeb, who co-authored the new research, said the following in a press release from the CfA:

Opening quote
"These super-Earths are one of the most common types of planet that astronomers have discovered outside our Solar System. Our work shows that in the right environment they might form in exotic ways."
Closing quote


With so many of these Earth-like exoplanets at the core of the galaxy, the question that naturally comes up next is whether or not any of these worlds might be able to sustain life.

The answer isn't particularly clear-cut. On the one hand, there's a lot more cosmic radiation bouncing around, as well as a lot of planets in close reach of each other that could easily see the building blocks of life float naturally around from one hunk of rock to the other, increasing the chances of something magical happening.

On the other hand, there is still a supermassive black hole in the vicinity, which makes life difficult to say the least - not only does Sagittarius A* mess with radiation levels on these planets, but there's also an abundance of supernovae and other big celestial spectacles in the area, pulled in by the black hole.




These giant exploding stars are putting out a lot of radiation, which may help create life, but would also snuff it out pretty quick. There's no way of knowing how fertile these super Earths might be as breeding grounds for tiny new alien life forms, but based on just how much intense stress these worlds are suffering under, the chances are high that any new life that might be created probably wouldn't last that long.

For now, in the absence of any concrete information about what it might be like to be caught up in a supermassive black hole's sphere of gravity, all we can do is speculate. One thing is certain, though: it probably wouldn't be any fun to actually visit any of these Super Earths.

Not unless you like the idea of dying a painful death long before a black hole absorbs the ground you're standing on.
Science
Science News
Space
Black Holes
No