Scientists now report a huge gas cloud at the center of our galaxy, setting the stage for a stellar spectacle as it gradually succumbs to a massive back hole. This will be the first time humans will watch a black hole swallow a gas cloud, so grab some popcorn and get ready for the show. (You might also want to pick up a very large telescope.)
Details of the Cloud
The gas cloud that is about to become black hole Sagittarius A*’s lunch will produce a spectacular show that will be visible in 2013, despite its relatively small size (it’s only about three times the size of earth. As it swirls around Sagittarius A* like it’s being flushed down a giant cosmic toilet, it has gained speed. It now is circling the black hole faster than 2,000km per second.
About the Black Hole
Sagittarius A* is around 27,000 light years away, so don’t expect to visit any time soon. Its mass is about four times that of our sun, suggesting it has a very strong gravitational pull. The pull of the black hole is so strong that it even sucks light into it.
As the gas cloud heads toward the black hole, astronomers hope to learn more about the way black holes work. Scientists are particularly interested in a quiet area around the black hole that they do not fully understand.
A Slow but Sure Death
No one believes for a second that the gas cloud will clog our cosmic toilet. After all, it’s just gas. Although gas has mass, the cloud does not have enough mass to hold itself together. This means as it enters the black hole it will leave behind cosmic streaks that offer experts a unique opportunity to see and study the forces at play.
The cloud is expected to stretch spaghetti-thin as the black hole absorbs its victim. Despite the intensity of its gravitational pull, Sagittarius A* will not consume the entire gas cloud. According to the BBC, the remaining part of the cloud (about half of it) will be hurled back into the galaxy.
X-rays and other particles emanating from the transaction between the black hole and the gas cloud will make observation of a black hole easier than ever. The chance to see an astrological enigma unfold promises to make the gas cloud vs. black hole event one of the most-watched cosmic events of all time.