The Galaxy's Core Is About to Explode
Nothing is as tranquil as the expanse of the Milky Way floating in the summer night sky—or so you'd think. In reality, the center of our galaxy is a chaos of fast-whirling stars, super novae debris, and intensely magnetic neutron stars, all orbiting around a monster black hole 4 million times the mass of the sun.
And things are going to get even more violent. Astronomers have detected a blob of gas, called G2, that's being ripped apart as it plunges toward the black hole. Later this year the hole will start to consume that cloud of gas. As the gas accelerates to terrific speeds, it collides with other incoming matter, heats up, and radiates energy at a ferocious rate. A similar flare-up 100 years ago created a burst of light as bright as a million suns; we know because the light echoes are still bouncing around the center of the galaxy. According to radio astronomer Shep Doeleman, the upcoming annihilation event could last for a year or more and rank as "a once-in-a-lifetime event."
How to See the Center of the Galaxy
Huge as it is, the central black hole is still a thousand times too small to be seen with the Hubble Space Telescope. Plus, it's obscured by interstellar dust that blocks all visible light. But radio waves of about 1 millimeter wavelength can get through. Doeleman is organizing the Event Horizon Telescope, a project to create an international network of radio dishes that together will constitute a system with an effective diameter as large as Earth's.