Engineering 101

Watch Now: A Flicker from a Black Hole

The bright glow of rapidly orbiting gas has a unique flicker. In a recent paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers from Princeton University and the University of California Santa Barbara used this subtle flickering to construct the most accurate model of our own galaxy’s central black hole—Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Researchers established the full story of how gas travels in the center of the Milky Way—from being blown off by stars to falling into the black hole. The most likely picture of black hole feeding in the galactic center involves directly infalling gas from great distances rather than a slow siphoning off of orbiting material over a long period of time.

The researchers teamed up to compare the observed flickering pattern of Sgr A* with those predicted by their respective numerical models. The stellar wind model takes a more realistic approach, in which stars initially shed the gas consumed by black holes near the galactic center. When this gas falls into the black hole, it reproduces the correct flickering pattern.

Watch the simulation here: http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upSv3rrdd2c&t=1s

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