Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, is usually quiet. It does not have an active nucleus, and it does not emit light and heat, like other objects of the same kind. Its activity is brief, with small fluctuations in brightness.
However, Milky Way’s supermassive black hole recently acted strangely, and astronomers caught the moment of mysterious activity that happened on May 13. Suddenly, the Sagittarius A* grew 75 times brighter, before going back to its normal brightness shortly. This is the brightest state the black hole was ever seen in, taking even astronomers by surprise.
Scientists decided that something interesting is definitely going on to make Sgr A* act so bizarre. Ever since the event, astronomers have been trying to find plausible explanations for the event.
The Astrophysical Journal Letters published the discoveries made so far about the strange event. A team of researchers used the data gathered by the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii over four nights in May. The team there managed to capture the strange brightening and condensed two hours into a few seconds timelapse.
Supermassive Black Hole In The Milky Way Recently Emitted A Mysterious Bright Flash
The Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole always varies in brightness, but this level of infrared light has never been detected before. Astronomers believe that the light shone even brighter before they started observing the black hole on the night of May 13.
At the beginning of the video, a glowing dot can be observed, which is dust and gas swirling around the supermassive black hole. Currently, we do not possess the technology necessary to detect radiation emitted directly by black holes, but we can observe the effects its gravitational force has on the surrounding objects, causing immense friction, which produces radiation.
When we view that radiation with a telescope using the infrared range, it translates as brightness. Normally, the brightness of Sgr A* flickers a bit like a candle, varying from minutes to hours. But when the surroundings of a black hole flare that brightly, it’s a sign something may have gotten close enough to be grabbed by its gravity.
Currently, scientists are gathering as much information as they can. Soon, they are going to start reviewing observations of the supermassive black hole in the Milky Way made by multiple instruments over the last few months, including the Spitzer, Chandra, Swift, and ALMA telescopes.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.