A supermassive monster lurks at the center of the Milky Way, and now astronomers have discovered that it is spinning so fast that it is turning the very matter of space-time into the shape of a soccer ball.
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, mass curves spacetime, the four-dimensional “fabric” that permeates the universe (what we experience as gravity). This happens with any mass: you yourself are now bending space-time, but barely noticeably – a different matter when we are talking about extremely massive objects such as black holes or entire galaxies. During this process, strange things happen: galaxies can act like lenses, magnifying bright objects behind them and allowing us to see further into space than usual.
Now, astronomers have discovered that the 4-million-solar mass supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), located at the center of the Milky Way, is doing some strange things to spacetime—the object is spinning so fast that when viewed from the side, he appears to transform the time-space around him into the shape of a soccer ball.
The astronomers used X-ray data from the Chandra Telescope and radio data from the Very Large Array Observatory to calculate the rotation speed of Sgr A* based on the movement of material around it. Their study found that the black hole has an angular velocity of approximately 60% of the speed of light and an angular momentum of approximately 90% of the speed of light.
Of course, reality does not transform without consequences. The rapid rotation of Sgr A* releases enormous amounts of energy, which could stimulate the flow of matter around the black hole. Giant X-ray smokers above and below the plane of our galaxy indicate that Sgr A* was much more active in the past and may explode again in the future.
“Although the black hole is quiet now, our study shows that in the future it could cause an incredibly powerful impact on surrounding matter,” said Anan Lu, co-author of the study. “It could happen in a thousand or a million years, or within our lifetime.”
The study was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in January.
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Source: New Atlas