Astronomers have observed a stunning, supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way that's pulling gas blobs into its vortex at 30 percent of the speed of light.
This is the first time that material has been observed orbiting close to the point of no return, and the most detailed observations yet of material orbiting so close to a black hole, according to scientists at the European Southern Observatory
The movement of the gas blobs triggered powerful bursts of radiation that were then detected by researchers using the GRAVITY instrument on the Very Large Telescope array in Chile.
"It’s mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30 percent of the speed of light," said Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), in a statement. "GRAVITY’s tremendous sensitivity has allowed us to observe the accretion processes in real time in unprecedented detail."
According to researchers, the monster black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A-star"), is a physical point of no return that pulls any matter that's too close into a death spiral.
The group published a study of its work in the Journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics on Wednesday.
Sagittarius A* is thought to be a black hole with a mass that's more than 4 million times the mass of our sun, residing about 25,000 light-years from Earth.
"This always was one of our dream projects but we did not dare to hope that it would become possible so soon," said Reinhard Genzel, also of the MPE, who led the study.
Referring to the long-standing assumption that Sagittarius A* is a supermassive black hole, Genzel concluded that "the result is a resounding confirmation of the massive black hole paradigm."
The European Southern Observatory also created an animation of the gas cloud and flares, seen below.
The incident observed by astronomers is depicted in the image at the top of this story, however, the image is not a photograph. It's a visual simulation based on data collected by GRAVITY and other telescopes.
"If you were close enough to observe these flares, you'd be in a lot of trouble," Tana Joseph, an astrophysicist and fellow at the University of Manchester who wasn't involved in the study, told Business Insider. "We would see extremely bright flashes of optical light, and there would be lots of high energy radiation, like gamma rays and X-rays, that would be very damaging to our bodies."