FEB 21, 2024 4:55 PM PST

Sagittarius A*: Spinning Black Hole Shapes Spacetime into Football

The center of our Milky Way Galaxy is exhibiting spinning behavior while warping the spacetime environment, according to a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. A team of international researchers led by Penn State University investigated the spinning patterns of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), which is located approximately 26,000 light-years from Earth, and holds the potential to help astrophysicists better understand the behavior of black holes throughout the cosmos.

“A spinning black hole is like a rocket on the launch pad,” said Dr. Biny Sebastian, who is a researcher in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Manitoba and a co-author on the study. “Once material gets close enough, it’s like someone has fueled the rocket and hit the ‘launch’ button.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed data sets from six archival observations obtained by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which has been using its powerful instruments to study the cosmos since its launch in July 1999. Using a method that was developed in a 2019 study by the current study’s lead author, Dr. Ruth Daly, the researchers determined that Sagittarius A* was spinning in such a manner that it is warping the surrounding spacetime environment into a football shape, which becomes flatter as the spin increases and is driven by the surrounding matter and the black hole’s magnetic field. The researchers concluded that if the amount of this matter and magnetic field’s strength change in the future, this could alter the amount of energy the spin exerts out into space.

Artist's illustration displaying a cross-section of Sagittarius A*, with its spinning behavior causing the spacetime environment to become warped like a football. (Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss. All Rights Reserved)

“We have a special view of Sgr A* because it is the nearest supermassive black hole to us,” said Anan Lu, who is a PhD Candidate at McGill University and a co-author on the study. “Although it's quiet right now, our work shows that in the future it will give an incredibly powerful kick to surrounding matter. That might happen in a thousand or a million years, or it could happen in our lifetimes.”

What new discoveries will researchers make about spinning black holes in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, ScienceDaily, Penn State, The Astrophysical Journal

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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