In May, the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration shocked the world by releasing an image of what appears to be a burning French cruller. In reality, it was not a donut. It was a stunning portrait of Sagittarius A*, the mighty black hole anchoring our galaxy, its gravitational pull silently brushing every star, planet and asteroid within.
It was the first time we’d laid eyes on her majesty – a great moment in itself – but the scientists weren’t done yet. There was much more to learn from Sgr A*.
From Earth’s perspective, about 27,000 light-years from this black hole, astronomers have been vigilantly observing and studying the vacuum in an effort to decode exactly how the Milky Way’s mighty engine works. And last month, a team working with a powerful radio telescope called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Observatory gleaned new clues.
After checking ALMA data recorded in tandem with EHT observations of Sgr A*, during the monumental black hole imaging procedure, the team spotted what they call a “hot spot” floating around the abyss. This spot, they say, appears to darken and lighten as it moves clockwise around Sgr A*.
“We think it’s a bubble of hot gas circling Sagittarius A* in an orbit similar in size to the planet Mercury, but completing a full loop in just 70 minutes,” Maciek said. Wielgus, from Max Planck. Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany and lead author of the study published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, said in a statement.
For context, it takes Mercury 88 Earth days to orbit the sun – and, at nearly 29 miles per second, this egg-shaped orb is believed to be the the fastest planet.
So strikingly, for the hot ball of gas to completely circle Sgr A* in just 70 minutes, Wielgus said, “it requires breathtaking speed of about 30% of the speed of light.”
Additionally, the researchers believe that the bubble’s orbit lies at a distance from the vacuum that is about five times larger than what is known as the black hole’s event horizon. Basically, there is a barrier around every black hole beyond which light cannot escape. It means the firm boundary between our visible universe and…everything inside the beast. This is the event horizon.
What’s the story with this bubble?
Study scientists believe their newly located hotspot, according to the European Southern Observatory, is associated with bursts, or flares, of X-ray energy emitted from the center of the Milky Way. In fact, such flares have been detected in the past through both X-ray and infrared observations of Sagittarius A*, but this is the first time anyone has discovered them through radio telescope data. – and with a “very strong indication” at that time. .
Perhaps the reason we see this energetic activity at different wavelengths – X-rays, infrared and radio – is that their properties change over time.
“Perhaps these hotspots detected at infrared wavelengths are a manifestation of the same physical phenomenon: when infrared-emitting hotspots cool, they become visible at longer wavelengths, such as those observed by ALMA and the EHT”, Jesse Vos, a Ph. .D. student at Radboud University in the Netherlands and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
What’s more, the findings of the team’s new study also appear to be consistent with another long-theorized hypothesis: that flares spewing from the center of the Milky Way are rooted in magnetic interactions originating from hot gas swirling near Sgr HAS*.
“Now we find strong evidence for a magnetic origin of these eruptions and our observations give us a clue about the geometry of the process. The new data are extremely useful to build a theoretical interpretation of these events”, Monika Mościbrodzka, from the Radboud University and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
These interpretations, the team says, could include a glimpse of the black hole’s elusive magnetic field as a whole, or a glimpse of the environment around the strange hotspot. In the end, maybe they could paint a picture of what really takes place in the heart of the Milky Way, the peacefully chaotic place where a monstrous black hole resides.
“In the future, we should be able to track hotspots across frequencies using coordinated multi-wavelength observations with GRAVITY and ALMA,” said Ivan Marti-Vidal of the University of Valencia. in Spain and co-author of the study. statement, referring to another of ESO’s astronomy instruments.
“The success of such an endeavor would be a real milestone for our understanding of the physics of flares in the galactic center.”
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