A gas cloud named G2 is about to collide with Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. A simulation shows how the cloud might be stretched and torn apart (2011 - 2016)
Black holes, the ultradense collapsed objects predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, are often depicted as voracious feeders whose extraordinary gravity acts like a one-way membrane: Everything is sucked in, even light, and virtually nothing leaks out.
Now, for the first time, astronomers may have a chance to watch as a giant black hole consumes a cosmic snack.
In March or April, a gas cloud that has been hurtling toward the center of the Milky Way is expected to collide with Sagittarius A*
, a black hole that lies just 26,000 light-years from Earth
. (The actual event, of course, took place 26,000 years ago.)
The cloud is as massive as three Earths — no match for the black hole, which has the mass of four million suns.
“This is a rare opportunity to witness spoon-feeding of a black hole,” said Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard. “Will the gas reach the black hole, and if so, how quickly? Will the black hole throw up or spit the gas out in the form of an outflow or a jet?
“The experience is as exciting for astronomers,” he went on, “as it is for parents taking the first photos of their infant eating.”