Astronomers working out of the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have just announced that, in May of 2019, they observed the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy become 75 times brighter than it normally is.
There’s been a ton of speculation regarding what the heck caused the burst in infrared light, but it seems like a lot of astronomers, including those that discovered the flash, think that the supermassive black hole may be… feeding.
That’s because the supermassive black hole being observed, dubbed Sagittarius A*, is a mind-bending 25,640 light years from Earth.
But many of them, like Phil Plait, are guessing that the extraordinary increase in brightness was caused by either a subatomic particle “wind” that surrounds S2 (a star that orbits closely to the supermassive black hole), or perhaps G2, which is an unknown astronomical object that may be a dust cloud or a star surrounded by a dust cloud that also orbits near the black hole.
If this is the case, it’s fair to say that this increase in brightness is due to the supermassive black hole “feeding” on some form of dust surrounding it.
This is one reasonable hypothesis because as a black hole feeds on matter, it lights it up to enormous levels of brightness due to the matter’s speed — the gargantuan mass of a supermassive black hole means that things that get near it increase in speed and turbulence (the matter bumps into each other) causing an increase in thermal radiation.
Regardless of what caused the enormous flash of bright light from the supermassive black hole, one thing is certain: It’s a lot of fun to guess about what happened.