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Surprising Science

Astronomers Catch First Glimpse Of Our Galaxy’s Giant Black Hole

NASA’s new X-ray telescope chanced upon a rare flare-up taking place in the center of the galaxy, home of the Sagittarius A black hole.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

NASA’s new X-ray telescope array, NuSTAR, observed activity at the Milky Way’s center which further confirmed the existence of the giant black hole labeled Sagittarius A (Sgr A). The observation took place in July and included the Chandra low-energy X-ray telescope and the infrared telescope at Keck Observatory in Hawaii. NuSTAR is the only telescope capable of detecting the high-energy X-rays emitted by matter that’s being “eaten” by black holes like Sgr A.

What’s the Big Idea?

Unlike other black holes observed at other galaxies, which quickly consume stars and other material surrounding them, Sgr A is a “gentle giant” which, based on current data, either doesn’t consume or consumes only a little material at a time. Principal investigator Fiona Harrison said the team “got lucky” to have caught  the quiet black hole at a meal, an event which team member Chuck Hailey credits to NuSTAR’s state-of-the-art sensitivity. Combined with the images from it and the other two telescopes, they hope to gain more clues as to how black holes eat and get bigger.

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