Milky Way Black Hole And Gas Cloud
December 15, 2011 by staff
The gas cloud, several times the mass of the Earth, is accelerating towards the black hole: over the last seven years, its speed has nearly doubled, and is now more than eight million kilometers per hour.
It’s on a very elongated orbit, and in mid-2013 it will pass at a distance of only about 40 billion kilometres from the event horizon of the black hole, a distance of about 36 light-hours.
The gs cloud is much cooler than the surrounding stars – only about 280 degrees Celsius – and is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium.
Right now, the could is much more dense than the hot gas surrounding the black hole. But as the cloud gets closer, it will be compressed by the increasing external pressure. At the same time, the gravitational pull from the black hole, which has a mass four million times that of the Sun, will continue to accelerate the inward motion and stretch the cloud out along its orbit.
“The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction. But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience,” says Stefan Gillessen of the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik.
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