NASA's Chandra Finds Milky Way's Black Hole May be Grazing on Asteroids

Sagittarius A*

This image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the center of our Galaxy, with a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A* for short) in the center. Using intermittent observations over several years, Chandra has detected X-ray flares about once a day from Sgr A*. The flares have also been seen in infrared data from ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile.

A new study provides a possible explanation for the mysterious flares. The suggestion is that there is a cloud around Sgr A* containing hundreds of trillions of asteroids and comets, which have been stripped from their parent stars. The panel on the left is an image containing nearly a million seconds of Chandra observing of the region around the black hole, with red representing low-energy X-rays, green as medium-energy X-rays, and blue being the highest.

An asteroid that undergoes a close encounter with another object, such as a star or planet, can be thrown into an orbit headed towards Sgr A*, as seen in a series of artist's illustrations beginning with the top-right panel. If the asteroid passes within about 100 million miles of the black hole, roughly the distance between the Earth and the Sun, it would be torn into pieces by the tidal forces from the black hole (middle-right panel).

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Carnival of Space

-Megan Watzke, CXC

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