BLACK HOLES BELCH OUT PLANET-SIZED BALLS OF GAS

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

Noth­ing ever es­capes a black hole, right? Wrong. New re­search has re­vealed that Sagittarius A*, the su­per­mas­sive black hole which lies at the heart of the Milky Way, reg­u­larly is­sues forth balls of gas that can be as big as a planet.

Strictly speak­ing, these don’t ac­tu­ally come from the black hole it­self, be­cause their point of ori­gin lies out­side the event hori­zon. What hap­pens is that, ev­ery few thou­sand years, a star will come too close the black hole and be ripped apart by its ul­tra-high grav­ity. But the black hole won’t nec­es­sar­ily con­sume all of the star’s gas – some of it can es­cape, whip­ping out­wards in a long stream.

Pre­vi­ously, it was be­lieved that these stream­ers would even­tu­ally dis­perse. Now, how­ever, new re­search by un­der­grad­u­ates Eden Girma and James Guil­lo­co­chon at the Har­vard-Smith­so­nian Cen­ter for Astro­physics in the USA has shown that the gas can in fact clus­ter to­gether again, form­ing hun­dreds of planet-sized glob­ules that are then flung across the Milky Way at speeds of up to 10,000km/s, with most even­tu­ally ex­it­ing the Galaxy en­tirely.

As all gal­ax­ies are now be­lieved to have a su­per­mas­sive black hole at their cen­tres, it’s likely that there are count­less such ‘cos­mic spit­balls’ weav­ing their way across the Uni­verse – although wan­der­ing or ‘rogue’ plan­ets still out­num­ber them by around 999 to one.

Planet-sized balls of non-burn­ing gas known as ‘brown dwarves’ are com­mon, but now it seems they have some more en­er­getic cousins

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