20-year study watches strange, doomed object at the center of the galaxy

A recent study has revealed the name of the enigmatic object that astronomers have been monitoring for decades, as well as its likely destiny in the years to come, when it will likely be swallowed up by the supermassive black hole hiding there.

The most extreme climate in the galaxy is found in the Milky Way's core. That's because Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), an enormous black hole with a mass of roughly four million Suns, is located there. This has a significant gravity effect on the nearby stars and other things.

One such object is X7, which is thought to circle Sgr A* at a distance of about 170-years and have a mass of about 50 Earths. Although X7 has been observed for many years, scientists are still unsure of its exact nature. In the new study, a team from the UCLA Galactic Center Group and the Keck Telescope set out to solve this mystery.

The scientists examined 20 years' worth of data on X7 and discovered that it has grown considerably longer over time. Additionally, it is accelerating and is currently moving at a pace of roughly 700 miles (1,127 km) per second.

No other object in this area has demonstrated such a virulent evolution, according to the study's main author Anna Ciurlo. People speculated that the comet-like appearance it initially had may have been caused by stellar winds or black hole streams of particles. But after 20 years of watching it, we noticed that it was lengthening. Something must have directed this cloud in its specific direction and alignment.

X7 has changed dramatically more than the other objects in the region, despite the fact that all objects in the region tend to be spread out by the strong gravity. And this might be important for deciphering its identify.

Although members of the G object class, which also seem to be clouds of dust, made a near approach to Sgr A* in 2014, they shed less mass than was predicted, suggesting a denser center. This indicates that it was a star encased in a layer of dust, and X7 may represent a novel category of objects in which the dust itself holds the star. The team suggests that this material mass may have been expelled following the collision of two stars.

We are aware of its recent history, but what lies ahead for X7? The X7 spacecraft is not expected to survive the near encounter with the supermassive black hole, which will occur around the year 2036, according to the team's estimates of its trajectory. It will soon be gulped down and vanish forever.

According to research co-author Mark Morris, "we predict that the powerful tidal forces generated by the galactic black hole will eventually rip X7 apart before it completes even one circle."

The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal.