FEBRUARY 9 2012 23:25h
Black hole may be feeding on asteroids
The vaporization of the asteroids as they are swallowed by the black hole, known as Sgr A*, may be the cause of frequent X-ray flares observed by Chandra over several years, a release from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., said Thursday.
An analysis of Chandra observation suggests a cloud around the black hole contains trillions of asteroids and comets stripped from their parent stars and X-ray flares occur when asteroids of six miles or larger in radius are consumed by the black hole, astronomers said.
"People have had doubts about whether asteroids could form at all in the harsh environment near a supermassive black hole," said Kastytis Zubovas of the University of Leicester in Britain, the lead author of the study report. "It's exciting because our study suggests that a huge number of them are needed to produce these flares."
Asteroids passing within about 100 million miles of the black hole, roughly the distance between the Earth and the sun, would be shredded by the tidal forces from the black hole, researchers said.
"An asteroid's orbit can change if it ventures too close to a star or planet near Sgr A*," said co-author Sergei Nayakshin, also of the University of Leicester. "If it's thrown toward the black hole, it's doomed."
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 9 (UPI) -- NASA says data from its Chandra X-ray space telescope suggests the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way may be devouring asteroids.