Mysterious 'puffy' objects lurk near the Milky Way's monster black hole

By Chelsea Gohd Space.com Staff Writer
June 13, 2018, 7:40:01 AM EDT

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This image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy and the region surrounding it was taken by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/F. Baganoff, R. Shcherbakov et al.


Near the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center, astronomers have discovered strange, puffy objects that look like gas clouds but act like stars.

A team led by Anna Ciurlo, a postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), made the discovery using 12 years of data from the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The team discovered these objects by measuring the wavelengths of light released by the structures of gas and dust at the galaxy's center using the Keck Observatory's OH-Suppressing Infrared Imaging Spectrograph. The researchers presented their findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Denver on June 7.

Based on characteristics such as the objects' movement, the researchers think the objects are dusty stellar objects called G-objects.

AdvertisementThis new discovery sheds some light on what G-objects might be. When researchers discovered the first G-objects observed near our galaxy's supermassive black hole more than a decade ago (G1 was observed in 2004, and G2 was observed in 2012), their identity was a bit murky. Initially, they were thought to be gas clouds. But when two of the objects somehow survived the gravitational pull of the Milky Way's supermassive black hole, astronomers knew the objects had to be something else, according to a statement from the observatory.

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