back to article Astroboffins baffled as black hole at center of Milky Way suddenly a lot hungrier than before

The behemoth black hole lurking at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy is hungrier than it's ever been, and is currently feasting on the largest meal that has ever been observed in almost a quarter of a century. A team of scientists led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), analysed over 13,000 measurements taken …

  1. RichardB

    It was obvious, in hindsight, that runaway anthropomorphic climate change would eventually trigger the black hole death of the local galaxy.

    1. John G Imrie

      American Expansionism

      In a Tweet last night the President of the United States of America announced the annexation of Sagittarius A* saying.

      This is the most biggly thing in the galaxy, except for my ego, and has obviously been drinking it's covfefe.

      Later tweets denied the existence of black holes, climate change and presidential elections.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        @John G Imrie Re: American Expansionism

        C'mon really?

        Not even funny while I'd give you points for being on topic.

        If you want to joke about Trump, lets say he decided to use the newly designated 'US Space Command' to build ships to mine the moon and other asteroids for diamonds.

        You will have to take a few minutes to figure out the absurdity of it.

        Not only would the costs be prohibitive, but someone would have to remind Trump that the prices for diamonds are kept artificially high by the diamond cartels.

        Just saying.

        1. a pressbutton

          Re: @John G Imrie American Expansionism

          Don't be mean about trump.

          With just a sharpie and a piece of paper he can change the course of hurricanes.

          Like McGyver but better.

          Only a small step from that to the 7th planet in this solar system and then onwards to infinity and beyond at the centre of the galaxy.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      I'm postulating that it recently encountered a huge cloud of galactic marijuana smoke, and now has a case of the munchies.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "hungrier than it's ever been"

    Look, I appreciate the imagery as much as any other guy, but a black hole is no less or more hungry than its gravitational attraction. When something stumbles close enough, it is not because the black hole reached out in any special way, it's just gravity doing its thing.

    I'm not sure that describing black holes as monstrous space trolls is good for the public perception of the phenomenon.

    On the other hand, it does make for a more entertaining read.

    1. MJB7

      Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

      Quite. Its hunger is constant (well, slowly increasing as its mass increases).

      It's just that now extra food has had the misfortune to come in range.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

        Quite. Its hunger is constant (well, slowly increasing as its mass increases).

        It's just that now extra food has had the misfortune to come in range.

        You're talking about the difference between me at a restaurant and me at an all-you-can-eat buffet...

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

        If its a black hole how can its mass increase? That would require mass to travel faster than light to cross the event horizon?

        1. Munkeh

          Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

          The event horizon is the distance from the singularity where escape velocity exceeds the speed of light. Meaning something would need to be moving impossibly fast to get back out. It doesn't matter how fast any given mass crosses the horizon on the way in - even a reliant robin could do so if you could get it there.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

            No - the event horizon is the place where gravity is so strong time stops.

            Before Finklestein black holes were often referred to as Frozen Stars because of this. Finklestein solved Einstein's equations from inside the event horizon and for some reason this was interpreted as allowing black holes to exist. But anything that approaches the event horizon will never be seen to cross it to an outside observer.

        2. Brian Scott

          Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

          Going into a black hole isn't a problem. It's the getting out that requires faster than light speed for an escape velocity.

          This is sort of the principle of black hole event horizons.

          As I understand it, black holes gain weight whenever things fall in. They (very) slowly loose weight due to Hawking radiation.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

            Hmmm. Lightbulb moment!

            The Hawking Radiation diet!

            Buy my new unobtainium bracelet that connects with your aura and converts your natural chakra radiation into Hawking radiation thus allowing you to eat whatever you like and still lose weight - in whatever periods of the day when you're not eating.

            For just £599.99, in 4 easy payments, you can have worry free weight loss!

            1. tentimes

              Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

              Can I have two please?!

            2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

              Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

              Hmmm. Lightbulb moment!

              The Hawking Radiation diet!

              The worrying thing is that with a few extra "quantums" and "energy vibrations" added to your copy you could probably sell this via Goop.

              1. TrumpSlurp the Troll

                Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

                Each bracelet woven from organic strands of pure blockchain.

                1. Tom Paine

                  Re: "hungrier than it's ever been"

                  Single-source DARK blockchain.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Chris G

    Black hole crisis

    I see people making light of this issue, but the British government is taking this threat to our sovereignty very seriously indeed.

    To that end I have set up a parliamentary committee of enquiry, to set out a plan to deal with the crisis. Due to limited time for debates on the subject we have decided in the mean time to exit the galaxy, as soon as parliamentary time tables permit will be urgently discussing this matter............

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Black hole crisis

      Will we be taking the Sun with us, leaving us exposed to the gravitational pull of an exterior body or will we be going for a hard Galaxit?

      1. old_IT_guy

        Re: Black hole crisis

        Gexit, please. Let's use the right terminology.

        I support full Gexit before all those pesky Andromedan immigrants will arrive in just under 5 billion years time and change our galaxy forever.

        I also support Sexit - yes, that means I am a Sexitist or Sexiteer - the Earth should leave the Solar System before Climate change turns the sun into a Red Giant

    2. Ian Michael Gumby

      @Chris G Re: Black hole crisis

      Well played.

      I first thought about Pierson (?sp?) Puppeteers from Larry Niven's universe, but of course you're poking fun of Brexit.

      But then I realized that your government leaders are just as bad as our congressional leaders. One Democrat once quipped that the House passes a bill only to see it go to the Senate and die. Meaning that nothing gets done.

      1. Chris G

        Re: @Chris G Black hole crisis

        I recently read Ringworld for about the 5th time, a great story. Brexit and puppeteers? Hmmm

      2. Saruman the White Silver badge

        Re: @Chris G Black hole crisis

        I thought that the House passes wind and hopes the Senate will die.

      3. Rich 11

        Re: @Chris G Black hole crisis

        Mitch McConnell is a legislative black hole. He must be sitting on more bills than an orgy of dominatrix ducks.

        1. Ian Michael Gumby

          @Rich11 Re: @Chris G Black hole crisis

          Congressional Records speak for themselves.

          The house has done nothing but to go after Trump. Very little has come out of congress because of this.

          As an American, its a bit of an embarrassment that our government is incompetent to rule. Its not Trump, mind you but the fact that the Democrats are willing to cause harm to this nation just to spite Trump.

          I guess we're not alone. Boris was elected with the sole purpose of Brexit. Now his own government is trying to stop it. Honestly, why did you have a referendum vote in the first place?

          I think we need to have a revolution and put both the lawyers and the politicians up against the wall. (In many cases the politicians are lawyers. ...

  4. sbt

    Obesity epidemic is a truly a universal problem.

    "I can't help it, it's my gravitational constant!"

  5. groovyf

    Shouldn't we be talking about this in the past-tense? As that light has taken so long to reach us...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Confer with your twin.

      Only if you assume there's a universal clock that all observers agree upon. Einstein did away with that.

      You might side-step that by saying, "Well, suppose we send a probe there, having synchronised its clock to atomic time (TT(TAI)) - what would that probe say?" And the answer to that depends on the route the probe took to get there and where we parked it when it arrived. (The probes are near a black hole so the gravitational time dilation is not to be sniffed at.). Two different probes would give two different answers. And it's not clear which we should give priority to.

      But, most importantly, if it decided to beam a blast of gamma rays at us, we will experience it today, and not 27,000 years in the past.

  6. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    "never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied"

    Indeed. but that in no way provides sufficient data to say if the current or previous observed behaviour is in any way normal or abnormal.

    24 years is a nanoscopic fraction of the black hole's existence, roughly 0.0000007153% of its 13.7 billion year life time (*).

    Can't say squat about what its "normal" behaviour is.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      Re: "never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied"

      Whilst I don't deny climate change is happening, I kind of have the same view on it as your view of this black hole.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied"

        "Whilst I don't deny climate change is happening, I kind of have the same view on it as your view of this black hole."

        Hear, hear. Is the climate changing? Absolutely. Do we need to do something about it? Absolutely.

        How has the climate changed over the last thousand years? Well, show me a scientist's temperature logs from 300 years ago, and I can give you an idea. Oh, and how good was his thermometer?

        Realistically, we only have reliable climate data from the past few decades, just as we only have black hole info from the past 24 years. Base decisions on proper measurements, not extrapolations from circumstantial evidence.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: "never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied"

      But they are also studying other BHs. That's how we're able to talk with some confidence about stellar life-cycles including our own sun - which we have likewise been watching for only the blink of an eye.

  7. Winkypop Silver badge

    I like big gravity wells

    And cannot lie

    1. Kane

      You other Quasars can't deny

    2. Jimboom

      When a quark walks in with an itty bitty waist

      1. Kane

        And an electric charge in your face

        1. julian abbs

          you get string

          1. Kane

            want to pull up quark

  8. Ian Michael Gumby

    I have to ask...

    Suppose you were on a spaceship traveling near the speed of light.

    You pass too close to a black hole.

    Would you even know what happened or was happening?

    Its a question of relativity from the perspective of the astronaut and not the observer.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      Re: I have to ask...

      Nobody knows. It's all still theoretical see...

    2. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

      Re: I have to ask...

      A 'short' by Arthur C Clark tells of a super-duper spaceship, pride of the American fleet, getting too close to a black hole. It gets destroyed by the gravitational forces involved. All that can found after the event is a star-mangled spanner...

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        @Sean Re: I have to ask...

        Larry Niven did a Beowulf Schaefer story about a journey to a Neutron Star.

        Interesting read about what happened to his ship and then his assertion that the Puppeteers home world didn't have a moon.

        (A short story that was the title of that anthology.)

        My question was a bit different. Of course as gravity increases the tidal effect on your spaceship would increase.

        The question was more about the effects of time dilation on your perception of the process.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You perceive time as motion

      You perceive time by stuff (electrons, charged particles etc) moving in your brain. If your brain was more compact, so stuff needed to move shorter distances, then you'd perceive shorter intervals of time.

      i.e. your perception of time is a function of how compressed matter is relative to the thing you are observing. Gravity compresses matter and that alone is enough to compress time.

      Likewise the speed of light of light in a vacuum, its a constant right? How would you tell? Everything you measure it against moves by the same mechanism. Do you think its coincidence that electric forces propagate at the speed of light? That pressure waves through matter propagate at the speed of light?

      [TAG] If the same mechanism of motion applies to both/ALL/EVERYTHING, it also applies to your brain's perception of it, and so you cannot perceive anything but a constant speed of light! It's not a magic constant, you just cannot perceive it otherwise.

      Answering your question: You'd never notice any local effect, everything would appear to be the same, you might be able to measure some far away thing and notice the change.

      However, you said this:

      @"Suppose you were on a spaceship traveling near the speed of light."

      This is not possible. Well it is but you'd be your own black hole.

      Matter is made of complex oscillation patterns,

      Matter is glued together with this resonant oscillating electric. To keep the glue you need the oscillations, and those oscillations need to be at resonance.

      Light is F1s, they move at near 1 resonant wavelength per oscillation, still in resonance, but 1 oscillation along the field each time, and because of [TAG] space appears to be uniform in all directions, so light appears to travel at the same speed in all directions.

      A typical matter binding (e.g. an electron) is an F2, it takes two oscillations to return to the same place, if stationary within the field. That F2 donut makes two near-C jumps. It's already at near C.

      So you cannot move matter at C, without it becoming unglued. Only simple F1s can move at C, to do that with matter you'd have to double the local resonant frequency.

      So lets suppose you doubled local F with your magic warp drive. Now you have an event horizon around you, further away, matter is oscillating at F resonant with the universe outside your warp bubble, but near you its oscillating at 2F, still in resonance, but everything doubled locally. At the boundary is the event horizon.

      Your local bubble universe appears to be normal. Other than there is an edge to your observable universe.

      i.e. you're in a black hole. Similar but smaller to the one we're in now. With our edge to the observable universe being the event horizon around us. You'd have a mini version of it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Much easier way of explaining it....

        I just realized there's a far easier way of confirming the fact you'd perceive everything the same.

        Step 1, scale down your velocity from 'near speed of light' to 'really really fast'.

        Step 2, change the space ship for 'planet earth'.

        Here you are on planet earth, it's flying through space relative to a solar system, which is flying through space relative to a galaxy which is flying through space relative to a cluster of galaxies which is flying through space relative in a universe...

        Measure the speed of light in all directions.... it's the same right? Completely unaffected by this massive velocity.

        Measure the speed of propagation of forces, it's the same in all directions right? Completely unaffected by all this massive velocity.

        i.e. both are due to some interaction with local matter, not some universal constant magic value.

        (Duh! Light slows when in glass, so of course its speed is due to some local interaction with the matter its interacting with!).

        So in your scenario, you're near a black hole, hurtling through space really fast, and yet it will appear as if light and forces all travel at the same speed in all directions. Because light, and forces and your perception of time (another form of motion) all derive from the local interaction. Just as they do in this very similar situation here on earth.

        Regardless of speed, or the direction of the speed, or gravity, or the distortion of gravity, it always appears to be uniform and even in all directions.

      2. aeonturnip

        Re: You perceive time as motion

        Congratulations - you win my "Biggest BS Post" award this week.

  9. Rich 11

    My limited understanding...

    Yes, you'd know what was happening, though someone far higher up in the gravity well wouldn't see it the same way. They'd see your ship appear apparently out of nowhere as it approached the event horizon and then watch it slow down and come to a stop. If the black hole is large enough for your ship not to be ripped apart by tidal forces you'd cross the event horizon and (in one interpretation) start falling through time rather than space, but your friend up by the Roche limit would never see your ship even contact the event horizon.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: My limited understanding...

      But after the ship has disappeared, any surviving local ship would hear "the cosmic burp" made by the black hole due to the laws of comedy, which are more powerful than the laws of physics.

      Thus, in space no-one can hear you scream. But the sound of a fart will rip across the lunar surface. And the odour ignores Einsteinian physics and moves at the speed of smell, which can either be slower than walking pace or faster than light.

      When we get an electronic nose into space I think we'll discover that Hawking Radiation is actually black holes farting.

  10. Dr. Mouse

    Are they sure...

    ... It's not just grit on the scannerscope?

    1. Grikath

      Re: Are they sure...

      Not likely...

      The rather mundane probable answer to the blip is : "Hey... we missed a fair bit of mass getting near the damned thing.. Ooops , our bad.."

      But that would be a bit embarassing to say in a press conference..

  11. imanidiot Silver badge


    Sure, in the cosmic picosecond we've been observing it. Do we really know what is "normal" for something that has probably existed a million times longer than there have been humans on this planet?

  12. kbutler.toledo

    narrow-minded, single-topic idiots.

    1. The entire galaxy does not revolve around trump. GET OVER IT.

    2. When reading how hungry this hole is also please consider the distance, and the TIME. Now calculate in your tiny trumpian minds how long it took the light that we see to get from there to here. If there is a problem then we are dead already.

    3. And that giant sucking sound you may hear is not Trump, not even Melania(correct sp?). It is Ivanka, entertaining(last word: noun or verb?)

  13. knarf

    My God its full of Stars

    and it really is.

  14. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    These planet hunting telescopes....

    ...have any of them spotted a group of planets arranged in a Klemperer rosette formation heading out of the galaxy yet?

  15. Christoph

    Someone fed it

    One wafer thin mint

  16. raving angry loony

    Slight timing issue

    Correction: Since Sagittarius A* is about 25,580 light years away (7.86 kpc [1]), what the boffins are seeing is what happened about that many years ago. We'll have to wait a few (for a very generous definition of "few") decades to know what it's doing *now*.

    [1] Boehle, A.; Ghez, A. M.; Schödel, R.; Meyer, L.; Yelda, S.; Albers, S.; Martinez, G. D.; Becklin, E. E.; Do, T.; Lu, J. R.; Matthews, K.; Morris, M. R.; Sitarski, B.; Witzel, G (2016-07-19). "An Improved Distance and Mass Estimate for Sgr A* from a Multistar Orbit Analysis". The Astrophysical Journal. 830 (1): 17.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Global warming.

    Not only is the earth heading for total catastrophe.

    But the whole galaxy.

    An educationally subnormal swede told me so, and so did a similar bint in New York

    And the Guardian and the BBC, and if you cant trust people like that who can you trust?

  18. BGatez

    How long ago?

    Given the distance how long ago has this happened?

  19. ILLQO

    Sharing an offhand physics thought

    Since space/time is affected by gravity and gravity is "created" by mass and black holes are the end all of mass. Could the central black hole from each galaxy affect the time/age of their individual galaxies. A scale up from this could the entire mass of all the galaxies added together set the time for the entire universe.

    I'm trying to piece together a fragment of a thought on how the whole thing works, I apologize for going in a random direction like this.

    But say Galaxy A has a supermassive black hole 100x the sun, and Galaxy B has a supermassive black hole 150x the sun. Would "time" go slower in Galaxy B, much like its been observed that time goes slower the closer to earths gravity well a clock is put. So an observer from galaxy A looking at galaxy B would interpret objects and solar aging happening at a slower pace than objects in galaxy A. That would say to me also that time near the center of a galaxy is slower than time near the outer barrier of a galaxy which means that objects near the center would spin slower than objects at the edge when viewed even if locally they were spinning at the same speed.

    Again I am sorry I am not trying to sound like amanfrommars I am just trying to get the thought out before it fades away.

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