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Black Hole Bonanza

August 31, 2018

The center of the Milky Way galaxy could be a bit hazardous. It’s home to a supermassive black hole — about four million times the mass of the Sun. Anything that gets too close is pulled into the black hole, where it’s lost forever.

A recent study says there could be hundreds of smaller black holes there as well.

These black holes are collapsed cores of once mighty stars, so they’re up to a few dozen times the mass of the Sun. They produce no energy, but they sometimes have companion stars. A black hole can steal gas from the surface of the companion. The gas forms a disk around the black hole. As the gas spirals toward the black hole, it gets extremely hot, so it emits X-rays.

Astronomers looked for the glow of these disks with Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a space telescope. They found more than a half-dozen likely suspects. All of them are within about three light-years of the supermassive black hole. Since only the brightest sources are likely to show up at that distance, that suggests there could be many more black holes in that same volume of space. That would make the center of the galaxy an even more dangerous region for visitors.

We can safely view that region, though. It’s in Sagittarius the archer, which scoots low across the southwest at this time of year. The constellation’s brightest stars form the outline of a teapot. The center of the galaxy is above the spout of the teapot — 27,000 light-years away.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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