About 25,000 light years from Earth, at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy a super-massive black hole has so distorted space-time that a cloud of gas, ripped from nearby stars, has stretched and accelerated to more than 1% the speed of light. The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope first detected the cloud in 2011. Now researchers using a spectroscope exposed to the cloud’s light for more than 20 hours have identified the cloud’s chemistry, and calculated its velocities, giving them a deeper understanding of the strange space around the huge singularity. The black hole at the galactic core, known as Sagittarius A*, is about four million times more massive than our Sun. These images reveal the hole’s gravity shredding the gas, stretching like putty, and whipping the distorted head of the cloud around toward us at greater than 10 million kilometers per hour. It’s tempting to assign some kind of emotional story to this event; like a monstrous animal toying with its prey before completely devouring it. But it’s just the inevitable physics of the Universe, revealed for us by a remarkable telescope and some extraordinary scientists. For SPACE.com, I’m Dave Brody
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25,000 light years from Earth, at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, a super-massive black hole has so distorted space-time that a cloud of gas, ripped from nearby stars, has stretched and accelerated to more than 1% the speed of light.

Credit: European Southern Observatory / SPACE.com / S. Gillessen / MPE /Marc Schartmann

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