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Milky Way’s black hole may hurl galactic spitballs our way

Giant gas blobs are what’s left of gravity-shredded stars

By
9:00am, January 10, 2017
illustration of Jupiter-sized gas blobs

DUCK! Blobs of gas roughly the mass of Jupiter (several illustrated) could form near the black hole at the center of the Milky Way and shoot into intergalactic space.

GRAPEVINE, TEXAS — The gargantuan black hole at the center of the Milky Way is a little like an unruly kid, hurling spitballs. But unlike a child’s arsenal, these spitballs are roughly the size of a planet and can travel fast enough to shoot out of the galaxy. Some might even zip right by our solar system.

Stars that pass too close to the black hole can be shredded by the intense gravity. Previous simulations have shown that within these strands of stellar debris, gas can clump back together into balls roughly the mass of Jupiter that are then launched away at several thousand kilometers per second. What happens to these blobs was unknown.

About 95 percent are launched so fast that they escape the gravity of the Milky Way and fly into intergalactic space, Eden Girma, an undergraduate at Harvard University, said January 6 in a news conference at a meeting of the American

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