|A computer simulation shows the G2 gas cloud’s encounter with the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way, as well as the paths of the many other objects that orbit the black hole.|
By Calla Cofield
A mystery object at the center of the galaxy has astronomers scratching their heads, and a new piece of information won’t be solving the case before the New Year.
In yet another twist to a saga of astronomical proportions, astronomers have identified what they say is a gas cloud that made a tight orbit around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy 13 years ago. The object could be one in a series of gas clouds, the second of which may soon become a snack for the black hole.
The newly discovered object has been dubbed G1. An object known as G2 has been in the news for more than a year, ever since astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany hypothesized that it was a gas cloud. If that is true, it should lose some of its material to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way (known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A*). This giant black hole — its name is pronounced Sagittarius A(star) — doesn’t dine on material often, so the event would be a rare chance for astronomers to watch a black hole eat. . . .