Monday, May 20, 2013

No need for "meaning" as a cloud plunges into the supermassive black hole of our Galaxy

by Salman Hameed

Hydrogen gas swirling around the black hole at the center of our Galaxy as seen in radio waves

There is often heated rhetoric around science and religion debates. Some focus on showing the incompatibility of science and religion while some others find evidence of science in scriptures. But often the beauty of nature - as nature - gets left out. In fact, in 99% of the cases, science and religion have nothing to say to each other. In that spirit, here is a fantastic news story of the discovery of a Magnetar - a highly magnetized neutron star - very close to the central black hole of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. We are quite far from the central black hole (about 30,000 light years away) and don't have to worry about it. However, what is really cool is the fact that there is a gas cloud, G2, heading straight (actually it will be spiraling in) into Sagittarius A* - the supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy. The cloud is about 3 times as massive as the Earth and it is expected to swallowed some time between September of this year and March 2014. Now this is so cool that we (as in astronomers) can pinpoint such events with this kind of accuracy!

What does it have anything to with science and religion? Nothing. And that is the way it ought to be. Of course, if we (as in humans) were in the cloud that will be swallowed by Sagittarius A*, then there would be have been a lot of discussion of science, religion, and the meaning of our drift into the central black hole. Otherwise, thirty-thousand light years away, it is just a cool event.

Here is the story from this week's Nature:
The magnetar’s accidental discovery is a by-product of astronomers’ excitement about the arrival of the gas cloud, dubbed G2. The cloud, which is about three times the mass of Earth, was first spotted near Sgr A* in 2012 (and was later found in 2002 data). Its arrival would deliver insight into how objects accrete into the swirling disk of material around a black hole, as well as offering the first chance for astronomers to measure the time that it takes for objects to be captured and swallowed up.
Every flicker of emissions from Sgr A* sparks a flurry of speculation, intensifying the usual cycle of observation and coordinated follow-up that characterizes high-energy astronomy. Many telescope directors are scheduling additional monitoring of the Galactic Centre. The VLA, for example, is already scanning radio frequencies around Sgr A* every two months, and will do so every month once G2 arrives.
Read the full story here (may need subscription to access it).

And here is a short video that includes a simulation of what will happen to the cloud when it encounters the black hole:


Akbar said...

This is going to be a milestone in understanding of the Black Holes.

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