Ask Ethan #28: Feeding the Monster (Synopsis)

What makes us love… is when we learn all these fantastic stories. Feeding the imagination is what makes a subject come alive.” -Daniel Tammet

Is the largest object in our galaxy — our central black hole — poised to devour a massive gas cloud?

Image credit: ESO/MPE/M. Schartmann/L. Calçada. Image credit: ESO/MPE/M. Schartmann/L. Calçada.

As far as supermassive black holes go, the one at the center of our galaxy is definitely on the boring end. While many galaxies have black holes with tens or hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun, and a few even reach into the billions, ours sits humbly at a mere four million solar masses. And while many black holes emit huge amounts of X-ray energy, ours sits quietly.

But what if a molecular gas cloud were to come along and feed it?

Believe it or not, this is about to happen! So, what can we expect?

Go and read the whole story. There's no chance of doom, but there are lots of wonderful things to learn!

More like this

"Not only does God play dice, but... he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen." -Stephen Hawking The New York Times ran an article on Stephen Hawking promising there was a possible escape route from a black hole, after all. In the text, Hawking asserts, "They are not the eternal prisons…
“All enterprises that are entered into with indiscreet zeal may be pursued with great vigor at first, but are sure to collapse in the end.” -Tacitus Dark matter makes up the overwhelming majority of mass in the Universe. With five times as much of it as there is normal matter, and the fact that it…
“In our description of nature the purpose is not to disclose the real essence of the phenomena but only to track down, as far as possible, relations between the manifold aspects of our experience.” -Niels Bohr When it comes to galaxies, clusters of galaxies or the largest-scales on the Universe,…
"This isn't my life anymore, Mulder. I'm done chasing monsters in the dark." -Dana Scully, X-files One of the most exciting things a scientist can experience is when they look at a sample of data, expecting to not see a particular exciting effect, and yet, something’s there. Immediately, you have…

@Ethan: S-2 already made a pericentric pass in 2002, didn't it? Has the technology improved enough that we will learn substantially more this time than last? Or is it just that we have better focused questions to ask, and can therefore choose particular instrumentation to use?

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 14 Mar 2014 #permalink

Nice article, but have to note that you haven't actually answered the question. The question was, would sagittarius A start behaving like a quasar.... and that question is still left untouched to the end...

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 14 Mar 2014 #permalink

I read the question as "I know it won't start behaving like a quasar, can you help me explain how?" And a summary of the explanation might be "because there's not enough mass involved."