Now, for the first time ever, astronomers may have a chance to watch as a giant black hole consumes a space snack, gas cloud. A gas cloud named G2 is about to collide with Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
Astronomers and researchers at the University of Michigan expect a mysterious gas cloud to cross paths with the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy in the next few months. Then, one of two things could happen. The cloud could plunge on in, throwing off intense X-rays as it goes. Or, if the cloud contains a star that astronomers cannot currently see, the star will pass by unaffected, while some of the cloud enters the black hole less spectacularly.
In March or April, a gas cloud that has been hurtling toward the center of the Milky Way is expected to collide with Sagittarius A*, a black hole that lies just 26,000 light-years from Earth. (The actual event, of course, took place 26,000 years ago.)
“Everyone wants to see the event happening because it’s so rare,” said Nathalie Degenaar, who leads the imaging effort as a Hubble research fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan.