For the first time, a cloud of cool gas has been spotted approaching the supermassive black hole that lies at the center of our Milky Way galaxy—and astronomers are hoping they’ll soon get to watch the monster feed.
Called Sagittarius A*—or Sgr A*, pronounced “A star”—the black hole is estimated to be about four million times as massive as our sun. All that mass is packed into a space about as wide as Earth’s orbit, making the object so dense not even light can escape its gravity.
Although the black hole itself is invisible, astronomers can see the effects of its powerful gravity on nearby stars, some of which orbit Sgr A* at speeds of more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) a second.
In addition, when a black hole eats, it makes a mess, which is exactly what astronomers hope to witness.