PureInsight | January 2, 2001
At the center of the Milky Way, a black hole 2.6 million times as massive as our Sun gobbles gas and stars. This 'food' is thought to swirl into the center, like muck going down a bathtub drain.
But all this swirling should create lots of friction, which should generate enormous energy. The black hole should, therefore, be very, very bright -- in visible light, X-rays and other wavelengths.
'Instead it is very faint,' says Tom Geballe of the Gemini Observatory.
Why? Is there not much stuff falling in? Or is the stuff falling directly in instead of swirling, thereby creating less friction? Or is some unknown effect preventing us from seeing the radiation?
'Nobody is sure,' Geballe says, but he suspects we may learn the answer in the next 5 to 10 years.
'One might argue that all black holes always will be strange,' he said. 'So perhaps I should simply predict that the galactic center black hole will no longer be considered stranger than other black holes by 2010.'
(Image: Scientists say the Milky Way's black hole, when it was younger and more active, may have looked a lot like the one in this artist's conception.)