Black hole shock: Astronomers find ‘strange’ objects lurking near Milky Way’s centre

Astronomers have discovered a “class of strange objects” near to Sagittarius A*, which look like gas but behave like stars. The black hole, which is 26,000 light-years from Earth, is forcing the objects to stretch out and compact, depending on where they are in their orbit, due to its intense gravitational pull.

The discovery of the baffling objects was made by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which found that the objects have an orbital time around the black hole ranging from 100 years to 1,000 years.

Astronomers made the discovery of the first object back in 2005, named G1. Since then, five more have been found, all named G1 to G6.

The objects did not pique the interest of scientists until they travelled close to the black hole, which forced them to stretch out over space.

There is still some debate as to what the objects are, but UCLA reported that they are all likely binary stars – two stars which orbit one another – which merged into several massive stars.

Study co-author Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren Leichtman, and Professor of Astrophysics and director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group Arthur Levine said: “These objects look like gas and behave like stars.

“At the time of closest approach, G2 had a really strange signature.

“We had seen it before, but it didn’t look too peculiar until it got close to the black hole and became elongated, and much of its gas was torn apart.

“It went from being a pretty innocuous object when it was far from the black hole to one that was really stretched out and distorted at its closest approach and lost its outer shell, and now it’s getting more compact again.”

Co-author Mark Morris, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, added: “One of the things that has gotten everyone excited about the G objects is that the stuff that gets pulled off of them by tidal forces as they sweep by the central black hole must inevitably fall into the black hole.

“When that happens, it might be able to produce an impressive fireworks show since the material eaten by the black hole will heat up and emit copious radiation before it disappears across the event horizon.”

The research suggests that binary stars and their subsequent mergers are more common across the Milky Way than experts had previously thought.

Prof Ghez said: “Mergers of stars may be happening in the universe more often than we thought, and likely are quite common.

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“Black holes may be driving binary stars to merge.

“It’s possible that many of the stars we’ve been watching and not understanding may be the end product of mergers that are calm now.

“We are learning how galaxies and black holes evolve.

“The way binary stars interact with each other and with the black hole is very different from how single stars interact with other single stars and with the black hole.”

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