At the center of the Milky Way lies a supermassive black hole with a mass of over 4 million Suns. Its gravitational pull has an incredible effect on the material around it and yet researchers believe a magnetic field near the core of our galaxy is strong enough to influence the material around the black hole.
The finding could shed light on why our black hole, called Sagittarius A*, is quiet compared to many others in the universe as well as why our galaxy produces fewer stars than expected. There’s plenty of hydrogen in our galaxy to make stars, but something is not conducive to their birth.
“There are still aspects of our galaxy’s black hole that we can’t explain with gravity alone,” Joan Schmelz, director at the Universities Space Research Association and SOFIA senior science advisor, said in a statement. “Magnetic fields may be able to help solve these mysteries.”
The new research is presented at the virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society and builds on recent work conducted with the SOFIA observatory. SOFIA can track tiny dust particles that align with the magnetic field, allowing the team to observe the movement of the magnetic field around Sagittarius A*. Their findings reveal that the strength of the magnetic field is enough to control the motion of the gas.
These observations have 10 times the resolution of previous detections, which is key to properly model the environment around Sagittarius A*. The researchers suggest astronomers include this new discovery in their modeling of the object.
The supermassive black hole is located about 26,000 light-years from Earth. It has been observed by the Event Horizon Telescope, the collaboration responsible for the first image of a black hole (although the image of it is still in being processed). Recently, researchers have detected flickers in the emission of hot spots of material orbiting the supermassive black hole.