Astronomers have discovered a hot gas bubble orbiting the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole

Newswise – Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have spotted signs of a “hot spot” orbiting around Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of our galaxy. This discovery helps us better understand the mysterious and dynamic environment of our supermassive black hole.

We think we’re looking at a hot bubble of gas orbiting Sagittarius A* in an orbit similar in size to that of Mercury, but we’re making a full loop in just about 70 minutes. This requires a mind-blowing speed of about 30% of the speed of light!says Masek Wilgus of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, who led the study published today in Astronomy and astrophysics.

The observations were made with ALMA in the Chilean Andes – a radio telescope owned by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) – during a campaign by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration to image black holes. In April 2017, the EHT connected eight radio telescopes located around the world, including ALMA, resulting in the emergence of Recently released the first ever image of Sagittarius A*. To calibrate the EHT data, Wielgus and colleagues, members of the EHT Collaboration, used ALMA data recorded in conjunction with the EHT observations of Sagittarius A*. To the team’s surprise, there was more clues to the nature of the black hole hidden in ALMA’s measurements alone.

Coincidentally, some observations were made shortly after a burst or glow of X-ray energy emanated from the center of our galaxy, which was spotted by NASA. Chandra Space Telescope. These types of flares, previously observed with X-ray and infrared telescopes, are believed to be associated with so-called “hot spots”, hot gas bubbles that rotate very quickly and close to the black hole.

What is really new and interesting is that such flares have so far only been clearly present in X-ray and infrared observations of Sagittarius A*. Here we see for the first time a very strong indication that tropical hotspots are also present in radio observations,Says Willgus, who also belongs to the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center in Poland and the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University in the USA.

These hot spots detected at infrared wavelengths are probably a manifestation of the same physical phenomenon: as infrared hot spots cool, they become visible at longer wavelengths, such as those observed by ALMA and EHTAdds Jesse Voss, a doctoral student at Radboud University in the Netherlands, who was also involved in the study.

The flares have long been thought to arise from magnetic interactions in the superheated gas that orbits near arc A*, and the new results support this idea. “We have now found strong evidence for a magnetic origin for these flares and our observations give us a clue about the engineering of the process. The new data is very useful for building a theoretical explanation of these events,” says co-author Monika Mościbrodzka of Radboud University.

ALMA allows astronomers to study polarized Radio emission from arc A*, which can be used to detect the black hole’s magnetic field. The team used these observations along with theoretical models to learn more about the formation of the hot spot and the environment within it, including the magnetic field around the A* arc. Their research provides stronger constraints on the shape of this magnetic field than previous observations, helping astronomers reveal the nature of our black hole and its surroundings.

Notes confirm some of the Previous discoveries Made by gravity ESO’s . instrument very large telescope (VLT), which is monitored in the infrared. Data from GRAVITY and ALMA indicate that the glow originates in a mass of gas orbiting the black hole at about 30% the speed of light in a clockwise direction in the sky, facing roughly the hotspot’s orbit. .

In the future, we should be able to track hotspots across frequencies using coordinated multi-length observations using both GRAVITY and ALMA – the success of such an endeavor would be a real milestone for our understanding of the physics of flares at the galactic center,says Ivan Marti Vidal of the University of Valencia in Spain, and co-author of the study.

The team also hopes to be able to observe masses of orbital gases using the EHT, to find out more about the black hole and learn more about it. “Hopefully, one day, we’ll be comfortable saying that we “know” what’s going on in arc A*.Wielgus concludes.

more information

This research is presented in the paper “Orbital Motion near Arc A* – Constraints from ALMA Polarization Observations” to appear in Astronomy and astrophysics (

The team consisted of M. Wielgus (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany [MPIfR]; Nicholas Copernicus Astronomical Centre, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland; The Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University, USA [BHI]), M. Moscibrodzka (Department of Astrophysics, Radboud University, The Netherlands [Radboud]), J. Vos (Radboud), Z. Gelles (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, USA and BHI), I. Martí-Vidal (Universitat de València, Spain), J. Farah (Las Cumbres Observatory, USA; University from California, Santa Barbara, USA), N. Marchili (Italian Regional Center ALMA, INAF-Istituto di Radioastronomia, Italy and MPIfR), C. Goddi (Department of Physics, University of Cagliari, Italy and University of São Paulo, Brazil), and H. Messias (ALMA Joint Observatory, Chile).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership between ESO, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in collaboration with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its member states, by NSF in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and by NINS in collaboration with Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Institute for Astronomy and Space Sciences (KASI). ). ALMA creation and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its member states; By the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), operated by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; And by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides unified leadership and management for the construction, operation, and operation of ALMA.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) allows scientists around the world to discover the secrets of the universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class observatories on Earth – which astronomers use to address exciting questions and spread the magic of astronomy – and promote international cooperation in astronomy. Founded as an intergovernmental organization in 1962, today ESO supports 16 member states (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), along with host country Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. The ESO headquarters, visitor center and planetarium, ESO Supernova, is located near Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a wonderful place with unique conditions for observing the sky, hosts our telescopes. ESO operates three monitoring sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as two infrared survey telescopes and the VLT visible-light survey telescope. Also in Paranal ESO will host and operate the South Array Cherenkov Telescope, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. Together with international partners, ESO operates APEX and ALMA in Chajnantor, two facilities that monitor the sky in the millimeter and below-millimeter range. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building the “world’s largest eye on the sky” – ESO’s Very Large Telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile, we support our operations in the country and work with partners and the Chilean community.