Mysterious objects discovered at the center of the galaxy

Katie Ramirez
January 17, 2020

Astronomers from UCLA's Galactic Center Orbits Initiative have discovered a new class of freaky objects at the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. Some astronomers believe they are clouds of gas, others argue that they look more like odd stars wrapped in dust.

During the last decade, experts looking in the black hole's cosmic neighborhood saw two unusual objects which seemed to be orbiting this black hole.

The first two G objects were found in 2005 and 2012 by Ghez's research group. The cosmic features were named G1 and G2.

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. "This is evidence for a stellar object inside G2", Ciurlo said, theorizing that the object could in fact be a binary star merger, with one very big star hidden behind a veil of unusually thick gas and dust.

The researchers think the remaining five objects could also be binary star mergers and, given the nearly unfathomable gravitational force of Sagittarius A*, they could also be destabilizing and restabilizing relatively frequently when they pass close enough to the black hole during their orbits. The new objects look like compact clouds of gas most of the time, the researchers said, but when their orbits (which range from 100 to 1,000 years) bring them closest to the black hole, they become warped and elongated, just as G2 did.

"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", said co-author Mark Morris, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. The merging of two stars takes more than 1 million years to complete, Ghez said.

The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is always up to something unusual. "Black holes may be driving binary stars to merge". Many stars we watch and don't understand are very likely to be the product of such mergers.

Ziri Younsi, an astrophysicist who researches black holes at University College London - who was not involved in the latest work - said: "The dream is that one of the orbits is eccentric enough that we get lucky and it will be swallowed".

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Astronomers carried out 13,000 observations of the supermassive black hole on 133 different night since 2013. In fact, they have already identified a few likely candidates and are continuing to analyze them.

The objects are helping to explain how galaxies and black holes all over the universe evolve.

They act as intense sources of gravity which hoover up dust and gas around them.

When G2 made a close approach to the supermassive black hole in 2014 it again displayed a weird stretching behaviour. Scientists utilized near-infrared information gathered in the last decade by the Osiris imager, established at the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii. "The centre of the galaxy is where extreme astrophysics occurs".

It's further proof that chaos is constantly unfolding at the center of not just the Milky Way but many galaxies in the universe. They may have formed as the result of the merger of a pair of stars.

"The Earth is in the suburbs compared to the centre of the galaxy", Ghez said.

In total, researchers found six of these objects at the center of our galaxy. "The gravitational pull is so much stronger and the magnetic fields are more extreme", Dr. Ciurlo adds.

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