The supermassive black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy is chewing up stars and spitting them out
Wandering stars that come too close to the black holes at the center of galaxies get ripped apart by extreme gravitational forces, sending a clumpy stream of gas outward. These gas streams have been detected near the black holes of many galaxies. But until now, researchers had not ever been able to tell what happens to them afterwards.
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New research suggests that these gas streams immediately turn themselves into massive planet-size objects and hurtle across the universe at an incredible speed.
“A single shredded star can form hundreds of these planet-mass objects. We wondered: Where do they end up? How close do they come to us? We developed a computer code to answer those questions,” said lead author Eden Girma from Harvard University.
“Our galaxy could be populated by hundreds of millions of those fragments that are the direct remnants of stars.”
Our galaxy Milky Way harbors a supermassive black hole at its center, called Sagittarius A. Every 10,000 years or so, a star stray too close to the edge of the black hole and is shredded by its powerful gravitational field, leaving streams of gas close to the Milky Way’s center. Theses streams ball themselves up and form giant clumps of gas and dust.
Calculations show that these gas clumps varied in masses ranging from the weight of Neptune to several Jupiters, the largest planet in our solar system. They can be found within the range of few hundred light years from Earth but most of them end up moving away from their black hole due to their incredible speeds of about 20 million miles per hour.
Since most of the galaxies contain black holes, it’s likely that the same process is at work in them as well.
“Other galaxies like Andromeda are shooting these ‘spitballs’ at us all the time.” Co-author James Guillochon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said.
These planet-size objects are different from typical planets. They are made of gas and dust – materials used in the formation of stars. These objects also form more rapidly than planets. A planet like Jupiter takes millions of years to emerge while these gas objects usually form within a year.
Researchers are interested in knowing more about these spitballs and how many of those wandering through the Milky Way were actually created in other galaxies?