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The Milky Way's Monster Black Hole Has a Cool Gas Halo – Literally

For the first time, astronomers may have imaged the cool disk of gas surrounding the gigantic black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, a new study finds.

their surroundings.

supermassive black holes millions of billions of times the mass of the sun. These structures may have profound effects on the galaxies they call home – for example, they can blast out jets of matter at nearly the speed of light that is likely to shape the galaxy's evolution.

Related: The Strangest Black Hole in the Universe

The location of the Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A.

(Image: © F. Baganoff et al./NASA/CXC/MIT)

At the center of our galaxy reads the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A * often abbreviated Sgr A *. This giant is about 1

4.6 million miles (23.6 million kilometers) in diameter.

Around Sgr A * swirls a ring of debris known as accretion disk . 18 million degrees Fahrenheit (10 million degrees Celsius), according to researchers on the new study. Previous research has detected X-rays near Sgr A *.

Prior research suggests that Sgr A * so what about this? F (minus 170 degrees C to 10,000 degrees C). Sgr A *.

"If we want to learn about what processes are important and how important we are, we need to know the environment around the black hole well "Study lead author Elena Murchikova, an astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, told Space.com.

Now Murchikova and her colleagues suggest that they have the cool accretion disk around Sgr A * for the first time.

Scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter / Sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to analyze the center of the Milky Way , Specifically, they are focused on getting light wavelengths away from the ionized hydrogen gas that could make it all the way from the heart of the galaxy to Earth.

An image from ALMA shows cool hydrogen gas flowing around the Milky Way center's supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A *. The red portion of the gas is moving away from Earth and the blue portion is moving towards Earth.


The researchers detected a disk of cool gas about 20,000 times the diameter of Sgr A *, and about one-tenth of the mass of Jupiter, or about 30 times the mass of Earth.

Future research should aim for higher-resolution images of the black gas holes, and how these interact with hot gas around black holes, Murchikova said. Their findings online June 5 in the journal Nature.

Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi . Follow us on Twitter @ Spacedotcom and on Facebook .

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