August 15, 2022

The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is leaking gas

The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is leaking gas
The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is leaking gasThe Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is leaking gas

A composite image of the effects of our Milky Way galaxy's monster black hole.

A composite image of the effects of our Milky Way galaxy’s monster black hole. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and Gerald Cecil (UNC-Chapel Hill); Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

The supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is leaking.

The Milky Way’s central black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), has been “leaking” or emitting jet-like superheated beams for several thousand years. In a composite image captured with the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers have revealed bright X-ray radiation as well as bright clouds of molecular gas and heated ionized gas near the black hole. 

Our galaxy’s central monster black hole hasn’t been directly photographed, nor has its “leaky” jet. But by using observations like the new image, scientists can see the effects of the black hole’s “blowtorch-like jet” effects, providing evidence for its existence and how it behaves. 

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The composite image shows hydrogen gas as orange-colored features. In interpreting the composite image, the top of this cloud of orange gas, the black hole’s jet is seen colliding with the hydrogen gas before scattering upwards into “tendrils,” NASA said in a statement. You can also see superheated gas in blue and molecular gas in green, as captured in X-ray observations. 

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These observations serve as evidence of how the supermassive black hole sometimes swallows up stars and gas clouds then ejects superheated material. It is circumstantial evidence that the jet “is still pushing feebly into a huge hydrogen cloud and then splattering, like the narrow stream from a hose aimed into a pile of sand,” NASA officials wrote.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.