From: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Published January 11, 2017 12:07 PM

Our Galaxy's Black Hole is Spewing Out Planet-size "Spitballs"

Every few thousand years, an unlucky star wanders too close to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The black hole's powerful gravity rips the star apart, sending a long streamer of gas whipping outward. That would seem to be the end of the story, but it's not. New research shows that not only can the gas gather itself into planet-size objects, but those objects then are flung throughout the galaxy in a game of cosmic "spitball."

"A single shredded star can form hundreds of these planet-mass objects. We wondered: Where do they end up? How close do they come to us? We developed a computer code to answer those questions," says lead author Eden Girma, an undergraduate student at Harvard University and a member of the Banneker/Aztlan Institute.

Girma is presenting her findings at a Wednesday poster session and Friday press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Girma's calculations show that the closest of these planet-mass objects might be within a few hundred light-years of Earth. It would have a weight somewhere between Neptune and several Jupiters. It would also glow from the heat of its formation, although not brightly enough to have been detected by previous surveys. Future instruments like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope might spot these far-flung oddities.

Read more at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Photo credit: Ute Kraus, Physics education group Kraus, Universität Hildesheim, Space Time Travel, (background image of the milky way: Axel Mellinger) via Wikimedia Commons

 

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