Snake-like filament found probing Milky Way’s black hole

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Astronomers have discovered a mysterious ‘snake-like’ structure near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

In the highest-quality image yet, researchers have revealed a look at the unusual 2.3 light-year-long filament, showing how it appears to curve in a way that points right at the black hole, Sagittarius A.

While the region has been studied for years, scientists just spotted the filament in 2016 – and, they’re still not quite sure what it is.

Astronomers have discovered a mysterious ‘snake-like’ structure near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. While the region has been studied for years, scientists just spotted the filament in 2016 – and, they’re still not quite sure what it is

Astronomers have discovered a mysterious ‘snake-like’ structure near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. While the region has been studied for years, scientists just spotted the filament in 2016 – and, they’re still not quite sure what it is

WHAT IS IT? 

Researchers have proposed three explanations to explain the unusual structure.

It could be the result of high-speed particles being kicked away from the black hole, creating a vertical tower of magnetic field. 

In a second, ‘more fantastic’ explanation, the researchers propose the filament could be a ‘cosmic strong.’

This is a theoretical object thought to carry mass and electric currents that migrate toward the center of a galaxy.

But, one such object has never been detected before.

The researchers also say it could be merely a circumstance of coincidence.

The black hole and the filament may be completely unrelated, they say, and just appear superimposed in the view.

It was first reported by a team from Northwestern University, after it was spotted with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), in New Mexico.

Now, scientists have produced the best look yet.

‘With our improved image, we can now follow this filament much closer to the Galaxy’s central black hole, and it is now close enough to indicate to us that it must originate there,’ said Mark Morris of the University of California, Los Angeles.

‘However, we still have more work to do to find out what the true nature of this filament is.’

The researchers are investigating three explanations in hopes to solve the mystery.

In one scenario, the snake-like filament could be the result of high-speed particles being kicked away from the black hole.

As a supermassive black hole spins and gas spirals inwards, sometimes a rotating, vertical tower of magnetic field forms.

And, inside this region, particles would be sped up and give off radio emission.

In a second, ‘more fantastic’ explanation, the researchers propose the filament could be a ‘cosmic strong.’

This is a theoretical object thought to carry mass and electric currents that would migrate toward the center of a galaxy.

In the highest-quality image yet, researchers have revealed a look at the unusual 2.3 light-year-long filament, showing how it appears to curve in a way that points right at the black hole, Sagittarius A

In the highest-quality image yet, researchers have revealed a look at the unusual 2.3 light-year-long filament, showing how it appears to curve in a way that points right at the black hole, Sagittarius A

In the highest-quality image yet, researchers have revealed a look at the unusual 2.3 light-year-long filament, showing how it appears to curve in a way that points right at the black hole, Sagittarius A

But, one such object has never been detected before.

The researchers also say it could be merely a coincidence.

The black hole and the filament may be completely unrelated, they say, and just appear superimposed in the view.

Other filaments have been spotted further from the center of the galaxy.

But, the researchers say, a coincidence like this is unlikely.

SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLES 

Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun.

They act as intense sources of gravity which hoover up dust and gas around them.

Their intense gravitational pull is thought to be what stars in galaxies orbit around.

How they are formed is still poorly understood.

Astronomers believe they may form when a large cloud of gas up to 100,000 times bigger than the sun, collapses into a black hole.

Many of these black hole seeds then merge to form much larger supermassive black holes.

Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a giant star, about 100 times the sun’s mass, that ultimately forms into a black hole after it runs out of fuel and collapses. 

‘Part of the thrill of science is stumbling across a mystery that is not easy to solve,’ said co-author Jun-Hui Zhao of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

‘While we don’t have the answer yet, the path to finding it is fascinating.

‘This result is motivating astronomers to build next generation radio telescopes with cutting edge technology.’

The researchers are investigating three explanations in hopes to solve the mystery of the snake-like filament near the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A. Artist's impression pictured 

The researchers are investigating three explanations in hopes to solve the mystery of the snake-like filament near the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A. Artist's impression pictured 

The researchers are investigating three explanations in hopes to solve the mystery of the snake-like filament near the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A. Artist’s impression pictured 

According to the researchers, any of these three explanations could lead to ‘intriguing’ new insights, with potential to reveal new information on magnetic fields or even stand as the first evidence of the highly speculative concept of cosmic string.

With future studies using the VLA, the team says they could learn more about its unusual bend, which could be the result of a shock wave as from exploding stars colliding with winds around the black hole.

‘We will keep hunting until we have a solid explanation for this object,’ said co-author Miller Goss, from the National Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.

‘And we are aiming to next produce even better, more revealing images.’ 





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