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A Front Row Seat to a Black Hole in Action Read more: http://science.time.com/2

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  • derhexerus
    URL to an interesting article from Time _http://science.time.com/2013/02/04/a-front-row-seat-to-a-black-hole-in-acti on/?hpt=hp_c4_
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2013
      URL to an interesting article from Time

      Hopefully this will provide some great information.


      (Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change)

      First couple of paragraphs
      If you want to feel a shiver of cosmic menace, just ponder _black holes_
      (http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,876930,00.html) .
      Venture a bit too close to one of these voracious monsters and you’ll never get
      out—although it hardly matters, since you’ll be torn to shreds and
      flash-heated to millions of degrees along the way. Star-size black holes are bad
      enough, but the super-massive holes that lurk at the centers of most galaxies
      are millions of times more powerful. When they _swallow a star_
      -blackhole/) or a _giant gas cloud_
      (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2117671,00.html) , we call the resulting flare of energy a
      quasar, which can be visible halfway across the universe.
      Now it’s about to happen—albeit with less spectacular fireworks—right in
      our back yard. Back in 2011, astronomers spotted an interstellar gas cloud
      plunging more or less toward the Milky Way’s own supermassive black hole,
      which is about the mass of four million Suns. And by the scientists’
      calculations, the cloud will meet its doom this coming September or October. “The
      impact will be deeper and more exciting than we thought,” says Stefan
      Gillessen, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, in Garching,
      _Germany_ (http://topics.time.com/germany/) , and the lead author of the
      Nature report that first announced the cloud’s existence.
      (MORE: _The Milky Way’s Mystery Cloud_
      (http://science.time.com/2013/01/30/the-milky-ways-mystery-cloud/) )
      Ordinarily, astronomers would expect an interstellar cloud like this (as
      well as any stars in the vicinity) to be orbiting the central black hole at
      an angle, spiraling in only gradually. Not this one, though. “It’s
      remarkable how directly it’s moving toward the black hole,” says Reinhard Genzel,
      of the University of _California_ (http://topics.time.com/california/) ,
      Berkeley, one of Gillessen’s co-authors. “Someone really aimed it very well.”

      Astronomers have already seen changes in the cloud’s structure since it was
      first discovered. “There are clear signs that it’s being stretched,” says
      Gillesen. That’s a result of tidal forces: the cloud’s leading edge feels
      the black hole’s gravity much more strongly than the trailing edge. The
      difference in speed between front and rear is about 360 miles per second, and
      by April, says Gillesen, “we’re pretty sure the cloud should be starting
      to shred apart.” It is reminiscent, albeit on a much larger scale, of the
      fragmentation of _Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9_
      (http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,981182,00.html) , which was tidally broken apart by
      Jupiter’s gravity before plunging to its death in July 1994.
      (MORE: _Found: The Very First Stars_
      (http://science.time.com/2012/11/02/found-the-very-first-stars/) )
      Even at its closest approach next fall, the cloud fragments won’t have
      reached the black hole’s Schwarzschild radius—the point of no return, where a
      final plunge into infinite density and pressure is inescapable. But it
      should soon be slamming into the black hole’s “atmosphere”—the thin haze of
      gas that whirls around it at a safe distance. “That could create shock
      waves, which could be visible in X-ray wavelengths,” says Gillesen.
      The bits of cloud may eventually funnel into the black hole itself,
      orbiting faster and faster, like water spiraling down a drain as the cloud’s own
      internal friction heats it to millions of degrees, giving off bursts of
      energy as it goes. Nobody knows quite how long it might take for that to
      happen. “I don’t necessarily expect fireworks next fall,” says Genzel, “but
      there could be. It might be that bits and pieces might shoot directly in.”

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