Gas cloud’s fate illuminates growth of supermassive black holes

Northwestern University’s Daryl Haggard has been closely watching the little cloud, called G2, and the black hole, called Sgr A*, as part of a study that should eventually help solve one of the outstanding questions surrounding black holes: How exactly do they achieve such supermassive proportions?
She will discuss her latest data at a press briefing, “Advances in Astrophysics,” on April 6, in Gwinnett Room of the Savannah International Convention Center. The briefing is part of the American Physical Society (APS) April Meeting in Savannah, Ga.
The closest approach between the black hole and gas cloud is predicted to occur any day now. Haggard has been using two world-class observatories, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Very Large Array, to gather data on this potentially spectacular encounter.
“Our most recent Chandra observation does not show enhanced emission in the X-rays,” Haggard said. “From the X-ray perspective, the gas cloud is late to the party, but it remains to be seen whether G2 is fashionably late or a no show.”
At the APS meeting, she also will make a presentation, “Hot News from the Milky Way’s Central Black Hole,” as part of the session “Hot Topics in Astrophysics.”

“This work is fascinating because it will teach us about the growth and feeding of supermassive black holes,” said Haggard, a postdoctoral fellow in Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). “We know they are big, and we know they are out there — in vast numbers — but we aren’t sure in detail how they get their mass.

“Do they grow rapidly when they are young, like our kids do, or do they grow in fits and starts, whenever fuel becomes available? In watching the encounter between Sgr A* and G2 we may catch a massive black hole in the act of snatching its next meal,” she said.

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