Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies Apparently Launch ‘Spitballs’ at Each Other


Sagittarius A* region. Image: NASA/CXC/MIT/F. Baganoff, R. Shcherbakov et al.
Sagittarius A* region. Image: NASA/CXC/MIT/F. Baganoff, R. Shcherbakov et al.
In the center of our Milky Way galaxy, 26,000 light years from Earth, lives a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. Its mass, equivalent to about four million Suns, is stuffed entirely behind an event horizon stretching across eight million miles, smaller than the distance between Mercury and the Sun. Needless to say, it is a pretty weird place, so it should be no surprise that it exhibits weird behavior.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Still, chewing up stars and spitting out their remains in the form of planet-sized gas balls traveling at insane speeds? That’s kooky even for you, Sagittarius A*. But new research presented this week at the 2017 American Astronomical Society meeting demonstrates that the Milky Way’s black hole may genuinely play this game of “cosmic spitball,” as researchers described it.

Here’s how it goes down, according to lead author Eden Girma, a Harvard University undergraduate student and Banneker/Aztlán Institute member: Every 10,000 years or so, an unlucky star ventures too close to Sagittarius A*, falls into its deadly tidal embrace, and gets torn to shreds.

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