The Chandra X-ray Observatory is part of NASA’s ﬂeet of “Great Observatories” along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitizer Space Telescope and the now deorbited Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Chandra allows scientists from around the world to obtain X-ray images of exotic environments to help understand the structure and evolution of the universe. The Chandra X-ray Observatory program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Center for the Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
The gigantic black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy may be devouring asteroids on a daily basis, a new study out this week suggests. For several years, NASA’s Chandra spacecraft has detected X-ray flares about once a day coming from our galaxy’s central black hole, which is known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A* for short). These flares may be caused by asteroids falling into the supermassive black hole’s maw, according to the study.
The study suggest that a cloud around Sgr A* contains trillions of asteroids and comets that the black hole stripped from their parent stars. Asteroids passing within about 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) of the black hole — roughly the distance between the Earth and the sun — are likely torn to pieces by Sgr A*’s gravity, according to the study.
These fragments would be vaporized by friction as they encounter the hot gas flowing onto the black hole, much as meteors are burned up by the gases in Earth’s atmosphere. This vaporization likely spawns the X-ray flares, which last for a few hours and range in brightness from a few times to nearly 100 times that of the black hole’s regular output, researchers said.