Supermassive black holes – the name given to black holes whose mass is more than 1,000,000 times the mass of the sun – can be found at the center of many galaxies. Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, and several institutions in France have succeeded in tracking a star racing around a dark mass at the center of our galaxy. This achievement offers more support for the widely held view that the dark mass is a supermassive black hole. The findings were published in the current issue of Nature.
The scientists tracked, for the first time, a star completing an orbit around a known unusual source of radiation (a black hole candidate) in the center of our galaxy. This discovery heralds a new epoch of high precision black hole astronomy and that might help us better understand how galaxies are born and evolve.
Supermassive black holes are thought to evolve when many smaller black holes merge at the center of a galaxy, and start swallowing everything that comes their way. Such a black hole is a remnant of an exploded sun much bigger than our own. The explosion is a rare celestial phenomenon called supernova, which happens when these developed suns use up all their nuclear fuel. Without fuel to maintain the huge pressure that is required to counter gravity, the star first implodes, and then the outer layers rebound against the suns core and are violently ejected into space, in a process that is one of the most powerful explosions that occur in nature. Simultaneously, the massive core continues to cave in. It rapidly collapses into itself and forms a black hole.
Jeffrey J. Sussman | EurekAlert!
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