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Plasma Cloud to Collide with Galactic Center in 2013 - Will The Core Explode?
The impending collision was the subject of a research paper published in Nature last December, and now the European Research Media Center is providing an update: By mid-2013, the cloud is expected to pass in the vicinity of the black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, at a distance of 36 light-hours, or less than 25 billion miles (40 billion kilometers).
Black holes are gravitational singularities so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their grip. They can only be detected by their gravitational influence on their surroundings, or by the blazing swirl of material being sucked down into their maw.
Some black holes are thought to be created when massive stars collapse. Others, like Sagittarius A*, are thought to be crushed into existence as part of the galaxy formation process. Sagittarius A* is 4.3 million times as massive as our sun, and is located 27,000 light-years from our solar system. There's no danger that this black hole will gobble up the galaxy — in fact, it's unusually well-behaved, which is one reason why humanity has been able to hang around long enough to detect it.
Stefan Gillessen, an astrophysicist at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, has been observing Sagittarius A* for the past 20 years. He says next year's encounter could provide an unprecedented view of our supermassive black hole at its best ... or at its worst.
A computer simulation shows the elongation and breakup of a cloud of gas as it encounters the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Click on the image for an update and video on the encounter, which is expected to begin in 2013.
"So far, there were only two stars that came that close to Sagittarius A*," the media center quotes him as saying. "They passed unharmed, but this time will be different: The gas cloud will be completely ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole."
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