Mysterious Signals at the Center of Our Galaxy May Be an Optical Illusion

Bild: NASA
The universe might be tricking us with its optical illusions.

By Yasemin Saplakoglu |

Last spring, researchers discovered high abundances of three elements in a group of red giants (dying stars in the last stage of their evolution) less than 3 light-years away from the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The high levels of these elements — scandium, vanadium and yttrium — puzzled astronomers, who tried to explain the phenomenon with various theories. One theory suggested that the abnormally high levels of the elements resulted from the descent of old stars into the black hole, while another posited that the elements were debris from the collision of neutron stars, according to a statement.

The latest of such explanations was recently proposed by an international group of astronomers and atomic physicists. They argue that those elements didn’t actually exist at the high concentrations observed. Rather, the elements were probably an illusion all along, the researchers reported in a new study published yesterday (Oct. 10) in the Astrophysical Journal.

Scientists originally detected these elements by recording „spectral lines“ with a spectrometer. With this method, scientists look at the amount of light an object absorbs or emits. Because different elements will emit or absorb light in a slightly different way (called their spectral lines), scientists can use the information to figure out what an object is made of. Scandium will interact with light differently than, say, vanadium would, for example. [Our Milky Way Galaxy: A Traveler’s Guide (Infographic)]

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