Uncovering the Mystery of X7: A Tic-Tac-Shaped Object Orbiting the Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way

Astronomers have long been fascinated with the mysterious blob named X7 that has been observed drifting around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.[0] Now, a team at the University of California, Los Angeles Galactic Center Group and the Keck Observatory have published research in The Astrophysical Journal that suggests the strange object may be a debris cloud created when two stars collided.

The object has a mass equivalent to about 50 Earths, and is on a roughly 170-year orbit of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*.[1] It has been tracked for decades, and its peculiar shape—like a Tic-Tac—and its shapeshifting has made it a source of wonder for astronomers.

In their research, the team found that X7 has been stretched and is being pulled apart as the black hole drags it closer.[2] It is expected to disintegrate within the next few decades, and the gas and dust it is composed of will eventually be pulled closer to the black hole Sagittarius A*.[3]

The team posits that when two stars collided in the relatively recent past, they spewed a cloud of burning plasma that later metamorphosed into the giant blob as we observe it today.[4] This explanation fits with the other strange blobs orbiting the galactic center, known as G objects, which look like gas but behave more like stars.[5]

Dr Anna Ciurlo, an assistant researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the paper, said: “No other object in this region has shown such an extreme evolution. It started off comet-shaped and people thought maybe it got that shape from stellar winds or jets of particles from the black hole. But as we followed it for 20 years, we saw it becoming more elongated. Something must have put this cloud on its particular path with its particular orientation.”[6]

The research team is keeping a close eye on X7's remarkable evolution as its gravity is being tugged by the black hole, causing it to break apart.[1] They hope to gain more insight into the extreme environment at the center of our galaxy, and to understand more about star mergers and their consequences.

0. “A mysterious object is being sucked into our galaxy's black hole. Now, we may know what it is.” Livescience.com, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.livescience.com/a-mysterious-object-is-being-sucked-into-our-galaxys-black-hole-now-we-may-know-what-it-is

1. “Mystery object seen being dragged into the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole” Express, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1740433/black-hole-x7-mystery-object-milky-way-sagittarius

2. “The Milky Way's Black Hole is Devouring a 278 Trillion Mile Gas Cloud” Inverse, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.inverse.com/science/milky-way-sgr-a-x7

3. “Unknown Object that May be a Debris Cloud is Getting Pulled into Black Hole” Laboratory Equipment, 1 Mar. 2023, https://www.laboratoryequipment.com/594856-Unknown-Object-that-May-be-a-Debris-Cloud-is-Getting-Pulled-into-Black-Hole/

4. “Scientists solve the mystery of `odd-looking` blob being sucked into our galaxy`s black hole” WION, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.wionews.com/science/scientists-solve-the-mystery-of-odd-looking-blob-being-sucked-into-our-galaxys-black-hole-568490

5. “A mysterious, long object is flying towards the black hole at the centre of the galaxy” The Independent, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/space/black-hole-milky-way-galaxy-object-b2290682.html

6. “A Mysterious Blob Near the Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole Might Finally Have an Explanation” Universe Today, 2 Mar. 2023, https://www.universetoday.com/160318/a-mysterious-blob-near-the-milky-ways-supermassive-black-hole-might-finally-have-an-explanation/

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