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Astronomers find a star dive-bombing our galaxy's supermassive black hole

12 Feb 2020, 14:00 UTC
Astronomers find a star dive-bombing our galaxy's supermassive black hole
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At the center of our galaxy lies Sgr A* — a supermassive black hole. With over 4 million times the Sun’s mass, you can see why it gets that moniker.

One reason we know its mass is that there’s a cluster of young, luminous stars orbiting around it. These are called S stars, and they form a group around the black hole about a quarter of a light year across — a few trillion kilometers. One of these stars, S2, has an elliptical orbit that takes it to a distance of just 16 billion kilometers from the black hole as it travels on its elliptical orbit. Until recently, that star had the closest encounter we knew of.

But a team of astronomers has been peering closely at the S cluster and found another star — called S62 — that shatters this record: It drops down to a harrowing 2.8 billion km from the black hole! That's closer than the distance of Uranus to the Sun.

Just writing that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. That’s a lot closer than I'd want to get. It’s almost as if the star doesn’t want to be that close ...

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