Strong Infant

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Strong Infant

The universe is full of surprises. One example: Astronomers have found several young stars close to the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. And one of those stars is still in the process of being born.

The stars are surprising because the space around the black hole is messy. The black hole’s powerful gravity stirs up everything around it. A disk of hot gas swirls around the black hole. It emits X-rays, which can blast away the raw material for making stars. And powerful magnetic fields thread through the space near the black hole, mixing things up even more.

That doesn’t sound like a great spot for young stars. Yet astronomers have found several of them. The youngest, X3a, appears to be only a few tens of thousands of years old. In fact, it’s not even a fully mature star — it’s the youngest of infants.

X3a is about 15 times the mass of the Sun, so it’s a really big infant. It’s in a clump of gas and dust. The clump may have come from the outer edge of a wide ring of gas and dust around the black hole. As X3a has taken shape, the clump has fallen closer to the black hole. Now, it’s just a couple of light-years out — surprising activity at the heart of the Milky Way.

The black hole is in Sagittarius, which is in the southeast at nightfall. The constellation looks like a teapot. The black hole is hidden in the “steam” rising from the spout of the teapot.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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