The destruction is only beginning
An ill-fated gas cloud has begun a close encounter with the monstrous black hole at the center of the Milky Way, a fresh set of observations reveals. Astronomers don’t expect the cloud to emerge intact, resulting in an unprecedented view of our galaxy’s largest black hole feasting on its prey.
In December 2011, astronomers identified the gas cloud, called G2, and found that its orbit would bring it perilously close to the Milky Way’s central black hole by mid-2013. Nineteen months ago, the immense gravity of the black hole, which weighs in at about 4.3 million times the mass of the sun, was already squeezing and stretching the gas cloud as if it were pasta dough.
Now images captured in April with the Very Large Telescope in Chile show that the leading edge of G2 has whipped around the black hole’s far side. “The line of sight is such that the gas cloud is falling away from us toward the black hole,” says Stefan Gillessen of the M