Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Huge black hole at the heart of Milky Way 'could suck in planets', say astronomers

Astronomers detected an object hurtling into the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way - our galaxy - at five million miles an hour in December this year. At the time, the astronomers speculated that it might be a gas cloud formed from material from nearby stars.

Now follow-up analysis from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics suggests that the object could have a different origin - and form a disc of material that would have gone on to form planets, had its parent star not been pulled towards the supermassive black hole.

The scientists think that the star might have been pulled out of a ring of young stars - hinting that other planet-forming discs and even planets could exist in the heart of our galaxy.

The cloud will impact the black hole in 2013 - and scientists will be able to tell from the radiation emitted by the black hole whether it's a gas cloud, or a star complete with proto-planetary material.

If it's a star, it hints that planets may form in the heart of our galaxy - a harsh environment blasted by bursts of radiation from the supermassive black hole. Read More