NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory has discovered evidence that the black hole at the centre of our Galaxy has been gobbling up asteroids.
The supermassive black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) cannot be seen directly, but its presence is inferred from its gravity and the high energy emitted from the region around the black hole.
Using several years worth of Chandra data, it was noticed that an unusual X-ray flare occurs almost daily from Sgr A*. The flares have also been spotted in the infra red region of the spectrum using ESO’s Very Large Telescope.
The flares can be explained by a cloud of asteroids and comets enveloping the black hole. An asteroid or comet that comes within 160 million kilometres of the black hole would be ripped apart by the deadly gravitational forces of the black hole. The fragments of the body would then heat up due to the friction of passing through the hot gas around the black hole. This in turn will vaporise the object and produce a flare, before the remnants are completely swallowed up by Sgr A*.
The daily diet of rocky and icy material implies that hundred of trillions of asteroids and comets could exist around the black hole.
The main image shows a Chandra observation of the area around Sgr A*, with low energy X-rays shown in red, medium energy X-rays in green and the highest energies are depicted as blue. The inset graphics show an artists impression of an asteroid causing a flare on the edge of the black hole.
Chandra will make further observations later this year to confirm if this theory is indeed correct.