The Burning Flare of Gas Being Devoured by a Supermassive Black Hole

Illustration for article titled The Burning Flare of Gas Being Devoured by a Supermassive Black Hole

Click to view Two separate telescopes in Chile picked up the same black hole flare recently, allowing them to see for the first time what it looks like when superheated gas orbits the black hole's event horizon as it is being devoured. The black hole in question is the Milky Way's own supermassive Sagittarius A*, with a mass of about four million times that of the Sun. In the artist's renderings on the right, you can see what the gas would look like as it revolved around the black hole. On the left, you can see what astronomers actually observed: a flare as the gas was sucked into Sagittarius A. At the European Space Agency's Very Large Telescope (VLT), the excitement was intense as they saw the flare begin. Ph.D. student Gunther Witzel said:

At the VLT, as soon as we pointed the telescope at Sagittarius A* we saw it was active, and getting brighter by the minute. We immediately picked up the phone and alerted our colleagues at the APEX telescope.


Macarena García-Marín, also from Cologne, got the call at APEX. She said: As soon as we got the call we were very excited and had to work really fast so as not to lose crucial data from Sagittarius A*. We took over from the regular observations, and were in time to catch the flares. Working together, teams at both scopes were able to record violently variable infrared emissions, with four major flares from Sagittarius A*. Astronomers Detect Matter Torn Apart by Black Hole [via ESA]


Corpore Metal

You know what interesting about those CG renderings? If we actually were close enough to this thing to actually see something like that and didn't have a planetary magnetic field to protect us, the radiation would cook us in microseconds.

When the universe gets violent—It. Gets. Violent.