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Black Hole At The Center Of Milky Way Spewing Planet-Sized ‘Spitballs’

13 January 2017, 4:30 pm EST By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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A cosmic "spitball" game is acting out in the black hole of the Milky Way, says a new research. This is part of the star-shredding activity by the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The new study is significant in showing that mere gasification of a shredding star is not ending the story at the black hole. It asserts that splintering of gas spools is also leading to the formation of spitballs that are tossed at disparate directions in the galaxy.

When a star strays close to the black hole, it is ripped apart by tidal gravitational forces, with the black hole flinging half of the mass away into galactic space while taking the remainder into its ambit.

The spaghettification of gas streaming then leads to swirls of gas moving far away from the black hole and collapsing into planet-size fragments.

Such a tidal disruption by the black hole breeds at least 100 Neptune- to Jupiter-size fragments. Put together, in the galaxy's millions of years, there might be such 100 million objects.

Once the planet-like structures are formed, the black hole's gravity starts throwing them away at incredible speeds of 2 million to 20 million mph.

Giving these details in a simulated presentation, Eden Girma, lead author of the study, and an undergraduate at Harvard University, told the American Astronomical Society that these spitballs can be tracked as they are reasonably large though the glow may not be very bright to be noticed.

Problem Of Low Visibility

Girma said advanced instruments, including James Webb Space Telescope and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, may be able to spot them vividly.

"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," said Girma.

Distance wise, the study said the spitball that is very close to Earth can be a few hundred light-years away.

According to the study, the bulk of the spitballs is flung outside the Milky Way at great speed. In terms of composition, they differ a lot from regular planets because they are made up of star fragments, which have hydrogen and helium as dominant parts.

Similar spitballs-throw is expected to happen in other galaxies as well and some are also throwing them at the Milky Way.

In the words of co-author James Guillochon, galaxies like Andromeda are shooting spitballs at the Milky Way.

The simulations demarcated the path of the fragments when they get slingshotted from the Milky Way's black hole.

It showed that nearly 5 percent of spitballs remain bound to the black hole and stay there for a span of several hundred light-years without getting close to Earth. As a result, they remain unseen.

Distinguishing Factors

The distinguishing factors of the spitballs are their capacity for rapid formation of planet-like structures. Shredding a star is just a day's business for the black hole and the fragments can join together in less than a year.

In genuine planet formation, it takes millions of years to shape up a planet, say, Jupiter, from a raw level.

Again, these spitball structures take million years to reach the vicinity of Earth's neighborhood. The big challenge for scientists will be to differentiate them from other free-floating planets.

"Only about one out of a thousand free-floating planets will be one of these second-generation oddballs," notes Girma.

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