‘Light Echos’ Reveal Old, Bright Outbursts Near Milky Way’s Black Hole

How’s that for a beacon? NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has tracked down evidence of at least a couple of past luminous outbursts near the Milky Way’s huge black hole. These flare-ups took place sometime in the past few hundred years, which is very recently in astronomical terms.

“The echoes from Sagittarius A were likely produced when large clumps of material, possibly from a disrupted star or planet, fell into the black hole,” the Chandra website stated.

“Some of the X-rays produced by these episodes then bounced off gas clouds about 30 to 100 light years away from the black hole, similar to how the sound from a person’s voice can bounce off canyon walls. Just as echoes of sound reverberate long after the original noise was created, so too do light echoes in space replay the original event.”

The astronomers saw evidence of “rapid variations” in how X-rays are emitted from gas clouds circling the hole, revealing clues that the area likely got a million times brighter at times.

Check out more information on Chandra’s website.

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