Milky Way Black Hole Taking Huge Bite Out of Our Galaxy

Milky Way Black Hole Taking Huge Bite Out of Our Galaxy

Kenneth Drake
September 7, 2017

But there's one particular size of black hole that has been especially evasive, even though astronomers have theorized that they should be plentiful.

An enormous black hole one hundred thousand times more massive than the sun has been found hiding in a toxic gas cloud wafting around near the heart of the Milky Way.

A large black hole has been discovered in the middle of our galaxy.

Last year, a team led by Tomoharu Oka of Keio University in Yokohama, Japan, reported finding a peculiar cloud of molecular gas, called CO-0.40-0.22, near the center of our Milky Way.

CO-0.40-0.22 had a very large broadening, indicating its contents were moving rapidly.

Using the ALMA telescope, the team observed the cloud more than 195 light years from the centre of the Milky Way. The researchers spotted what appeared to be a huge cloud of gas behaving oddly in the interior of the Milky Way.

Speaking to the Guardian, Brooke Simmons of the University of California in San Diego said small black holes occur when stars die, making them fairly common.

According to computer models, the most likely cause was a black hole, not more than 1.4 trillion kilometres across. "If there's one, maybe there are others?"

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The study said, "It is widely accepted that black holes with masses greater than a million solar masses lurk at the centers of massive galaxies".

A unusual form of black hole has been detected for the first time at the heart of the Milky Way. This explosion, which can outshine an entire galaxy of stars for a short period of time, leaves behind the small, heavy core of a star. Immensely strong radio waves were detected at the center of the cloud, further supporting the hypothesis that it contains a black hole.

"Astrophysicists have been collecting observational evidence for both stellar mass black holes and supermassive black holes for decades, but even though we think the largest ones grow from the smallest ones, we've never really had clear evidence for a black hole with a mass in between those extremes", she added.

"Theoretical studies have predicted that 100 million to one billion black holes should exist in the Milky Way, although only 60 or so have been identified through observations so far", said the authors. Why they are so incredibly massive isn't well understood, but astronomers think they may form out of the collapse of very big clouds of gas during the early stages of the formation of a galaxy. "[But] the origins of such supermassive black holes remain unknown". That would make the object an intermediate-mass black hole. One idea is that they come from runaway coalescence of stars in young compact star clusters.

This artist's concept shows a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core.

Galaxies like the Milky Way are thought to have been formed from the merger of multiple dwarf galaxies, and the remains of some continue to orbit our galaxy.

If the find is confirmed it could show that our galaxy has grown by sucking out its smaller neighbors. The Milky Way is thought to be now absorbing several smaller dwarf galaxies, such as the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, and possibly the Magellanic Clouds.

Previously, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, as well as NASA's NuSTAR and CSIRO's ATCA, have discovered tightly coupled black hole and white dwarf star with the smallest orbit in Milky Way.