There’s a mysterious object near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The black hole itself, Sagittarius A*, is mysterious enough in its own right, identifiable only by the tremendous gravity it exerts on objects near it, but what got astronomers really excited was the predictions that an object designated G2 might pass close enough by the hole to be torn apart and hopefully even consumed by it. If G2 was a star, it would hold together. If it was a gas cloud, it would be torn apart. G2 made its closest approach and remains intact (as far as we can tell) so it’s a star . . . or is it? Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute argue it could still be a gas cloud, because they have now plotted the motion of a second object, G1, and it appears to be following the same course as G2. This, they argue, means that both objects were once part of the same gas cloud, which has been torn apart by the black hole’s gravity. It would be similar to what we saw in the 1990s with Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and the planet Jupiter, except on a vastly larger scale.
So, which is it? Stars, or chunks of a torn-up gas cloud destined to eventually become a black hole’s lunch? Stay tuned. 😉