Milky Way’s Massive Black Hole to Swallow Giant Cloud in 2013

The colossal black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy will soon to get a huge, tasty meal, astronomers say.

A humongous gas cloud is on a collision course for the Milky Way’s core — the house of Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”), which scientists suspect is a supermassive black hole with the mass of 4 million suns.

When the huge gas cloud arrives in the vicinity, which it will appear to us to do in mid-2013, it will surely be swallowed up by the hungry black hole, scientists say.

Astrophysicist Stefan Gillessen of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, Germany, has been observing the Milky Way’s center for about 20 years. So far, he’s noticed only two stars come as close to Sagittarius A* as the cloud will.

“They passed unharmed, but this time will be diverse: the gas cloud will be entirely ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole,” Gillessen mentioned in a statement.

The cloud is due to pass inside about 36 light-hours (about 25 billion miles, or 40 billion kilometers) of the black hole. Its speed, which is now more than 5 million mph (8 million km per hour), has almost doubled in the last seven years as it approaches its doom. It has currently started out to shred, and is most likely to break up fully just before it hits the black hole.

Sources and more information:

• Supermassive black hole will ‘eat’ gas cloud at heart of Milky Way galaxy

• Video: Zoom in to the center of the Milky Way

• Countdown to a black hole show

• In awe of God’s creation: Scientists will be able to watch a gas cloud being sucked into a Milky Way black hole in real time (live) in 2013