Astronomers discover more mysterious objects near Milky Way's black hole
Astronomers have discovered more strange objects near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Tyler MacDonald | 4 hours ago

Astronomers have discovered more strange objects near the Milky Way's black hole. The objects are concealed behind a smoke screen of dust and behave like stars, despite the appearance of gas clouds.

"We started this project thinking that if we looked carefully at the complicated structure of gas and dust near the supermassive black hole, we might detect some subtle changes to the shape and velocity," said Randy Campbell, science operations lead at Keck Observatory. "It was quite surprising to detect several objects that have very distinct movement and characteristics that place them in the G-object class, or dusty stellar objects."

G-objects were first discovered at the Milky Way's massive black hole over a decade ago. G1 was first observed in 2004, and G2 in 2012. Although both were initially believed to be gas clouds, their survival in the face of approaching the supermassive black hole shattered this notion.

"If they were gas clouds, G1 and G2 would not have been able to stay intact," said University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) astronomy professor Mark Morris, a co-principal investigator of the experiment. "Our view of the G-objects is that they are bloated stars stars that have become so large that the tidal forces exerted by the central black hole can pull matter off of their stellar atmospheres when the stars get close enough, but have a stellar core with enough mass to remain intact. The question is then, why are they so large?"

The UCLA's Galactic Center Orbits Initiative (GCOI) believes that these G-objects stem from stellar mergers, which occur when two stars (also known as binaries) crash into each other due to the gravity of a black hole.

Over time, black hole gravity alters binary star orbits until they collide, and the combined object that remains from the violent merger could hold the answer to the excess gas.

"In the aftermath of such a merger, the resulting single object would be 'puffed up,' or distended, for a rather long period of time, perhaps a million years, before it settles down and appears like a normal-sized star," said Morris.

"Understanding G-objects can teach us a lot about the Galactic Center's fascinating and still mysterious environment," said UCLA postdoctoral scholar Anna Ciurlo announced their results. "There are so many things going on that every localized process can help explain how this extreme, exotic environment works."

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