You are here

Good Neighborhood

July 23, 2013

The neighborhood around a supermassive black hole should be a bad place to make new stars. The black hole’s gravity should rip apart the clouds of gas and dust that give birth to stars, making star formation almost impossible.

Yet the region around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy is teeming with young stars. And many more stars appear to be taking shape even now, hidden inside cocoons of dust.

Astronomers have discovered three large star clusters quite close to the Milky Way’s central black hole, including one that encircles the black hole. They’ve also discovered a disk of gas and dust that extends to within one light-year of the black hole.

And a recent study found evidence of stars-in-the-making within two light-years of the black hole. These “protostars” are encircled by cocoons of dust. But some of the hot gas around the stars may be funneled into “jets” that squirt out into the open. The jets and cocoons suggest that the stars could be less than a hundred thousand years old — a mere tick on the astronomical clock.

The astronomers who discovered the possible stellar infants say that the black hole may pull in big clouds of gas and dust. As the clouds orbit the black hole they ram together and break into smaller blobs, which then collapse to form stars — a process that may make the region around the supermassive black hole a great place to form new stars.

More about the center of the Milky Way tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.