The Hubble Space Telescope has helped uncover circumstantial evidence that our Milky Way’s central black hole is leaking. You haven’t photographed it, but it has helped uncover circumstantial evidence that it’s still pushing weakly into a massive hydrogen cloud and then splashing, like a hose pointing at a pile of sand. This supermassive black hole appears to still have the remains of a torch-like jet, which could be thousands of years old. X-rays discovered by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and radio waves detected by the Jansky Very Large Array Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, provided evidence of a squat southern jet near the black hole in 2013. This jet appears be colliding with gas around the black hole as well.
Several researchers who have been investigating the leaks and recently published a study in the Astrophysical Journal detailed that the black hole, which has a mass of 4.1 million suns, is not a sleeping monster either. In fact, stars and gas clouds fall on it on a regular basis. Multi-wavelength studies from a variety of telescopes reveal that the black hole burps mini-jets every time it swallows something substantial, such as a cloud of gas, suggesting that the black hole is dynamically changing. Gerard Cecil, one of the study’s authors, wrote in the journal that “the central black hole is dynamically variable and is currently off.”
Hubble and other telescopes had already discovered evidence that the Milky Way’s black hole underwent an outburst approximately 2-4 million years ago. It was powerful enough to cause a huge pair of gamma-ray emitting bubbles to rise above our galaxy. Meanwhile, scientists are looking for similar galaxies beyond the edge of the Milky Way to understand more about how supermassive black holes work and the impact they could have on the galaxies that have formed around them. They also believe that in the future, the mini-jets that the black hole burps could spread along with a larger burst farther than it already is.
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