Science

Black Holes In Our Galaxy Can Spew Planet-Sized Spitball

By Anne Dominguez , Jan 12, 2017 12:03 PM EST
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What happens to stars shredded by black holes? Every few thousand years, the black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy destroys a star that comes close to it and becomes a stream of gas. However, it seems like it's not the end of the story, a new study suggests that the gas gathers to create a planet-sized object which are spewed somewhere in the galaxy -- scientists call them spitball.

Black hole is an area in the outer space with very strong gravitational effects. Any particle, even electromagnetic radiation such as light, cannot escape inside it. Black holes grow by absorbing mass that surrounds or comes near to it.

In a study presented in the American Astronomical Society, researchers from Harvard University explained how to track these spitballs. It is at least as large as Jupiter, however, its glow is not bright to be detected. Only future instruments that are still under construction by NASA like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope might be able to spot them.

"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," Eden Girma, lead author of the study and an undergraduate at Harvard University said in a press release.

Based on their calculations, the closest cosmic spitball is at least a few hundred light-years away from Earth. They added that about 95 percent of these spitballs are spewed outside the Milky Way galaxy at the speed of 20 million miles per hour (10,000 km/s). Unlike planets, they are made of star fragments -- mostly hydrogen and helium.

This process also happens in other galaxies. In fact, their black holes are also sometimes throwing spitballs in the Milky Way. "Other galaxies like Andromeda are shooting these 'spitballs' at us all the time," said co-author James Guillochon.

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