SCIENCE
01/02/2015 11:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Strange Object Near Milky Way's Black Hole Stirs Scientific Debate

ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann

Astronomers may be a step closer to solving the mystery of a strange object seen orbiting the massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Dubbed G2, the object was first spotted in 2011 and was thought initially to be a gas cloud on the verge of being ripped apart by the black hole, which is known as Sagittarius A*. But when the object stayed intact, some scientists suggested G2 was something else: a pair of binary stars.

But now a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany have sparked new debate, offering more evidence to support the gas cloud theory.

For their research, the team used a computer model to compare the orbit of G2 to that of G1, another object observed near Sagittarius A* a decade ago.

“We explored the connection between G1 and G2 and find an astonishing similarity in both orbits,” team member Dr. Stefan Gillessen said in a written statement.

(Story continues below image.)
mystery object milky way
High-resolution images of the center of our Milky Way, with x marking the galaxy's black hole. G1 and G2 are shown in blue and red, respectively.

The similarity suggests that the two objects are dense clumps of gas that are part of a larger "gas streamer"--sort of like beads on a string, Space.com reported.

“The good agreement of the model with the data renders the idea that G1 and G2 are part of the same gas streamer highly plausible,” Gillessen said in the statement.

The new research was published online in November in the preprint journal arXiv.org and has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

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