Recent observations by According to a release, this week, at the annual meeting of the
Additionally, Sgr A* sits in the center of the
"Given its size, this supermassive black hole is about a billion times fainter than it could be," said
To better understand the black hole's behavior over time, the Swift team began making regular observations of the
To date, Swift's XRT has detected six bright flares during which the black hole's X-ray emission was as much as 150 times brighter for a couple of hours. These new detections enabled the team to estimate that similar flares occur every five to 10 days. Scientists will look at differences between the outbursts to decipher their physical nature.
The Swift XRT team expects 2014 to be a banner year for the campaign. A cold gas cloud named G2, about three times the mass of Earth, will pass near Sgr A* and already is being affected by tides from the black hole's powerful gravitational field. Astronomers expect G2 will swing so close to the black hole during the second quarter of the year that it will heat up to the point where it produces X-rays.
If some of the cloud's gas actually reaches Sgr A*, astronomers may witness a significant increase in activity from the black hole. The event will unfold over the next few years, giving scientists a front-row seat to study the phenomena.
"This long-term program has reaped many scientific rewards, and due to a combination of the spacecraft's flexibility and the sensitivity of its XRT, Swift is the only satellite that can carry out such a campaign," said
Goddard manages Swift, which was launched in
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Recent observations by
According to a release, this week, at the annual meeting of the