A team of European researchers have discovered a gas filament orbiting around Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The team discovered emissions from a large cloud of gas while studying 0.1 parsecs from the black hole. The research is submitted for publication and available on the paper repository arXiv.
The team used infrared light to study the clump of gas and dust in the innermost region around Sgr A*. The cloud weighs at least eight times the mass of the Earth and is moving at 320 kilometers (199 miles) per second.
“Even though the Galactic center is monitored now for over two decades, the gaseous and dusty filament was well hidden in the data (base on near-infrared detection and mid-infrared detection, respectively). Its pure existence is remarkable because of the strong radiation field created by the supermassive black hole, Sgr A*,” lead author Dr Florian Peißker, from the University of Cologne, told IFLScience.
Based on certain considerations, the filament could be just 0.17 parsec from the black hole if it is bound by the black hole's gravity. If it is instead unbound, it could be about twice as far. Based on the current observations, the team cannot tell if it’s one or the other.
For this reason, there is also uncertainty where it came from. It could be material coming towards the black hole or stuff being pushed out. It could even be related to the S-cluster stars, the handful of stellar objects orbiting close to SgrA*.
“We did not expect such a huge object so close in projection to Sgr A* that is comparable to the S-cluster when it comes to the size of the filament. Additionally, we find several other objects that have comparable properties. We speculate that these filaments could be the missing link to black hole feeding of larger molecular clouds that are orbiting the galactic core on parsec scales,” Dr Peißker explained to IFLScience.
The team hopes to re-visit this object in a few years with the use of upcoming observatories such as the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope.