There's a reason you never see scientists at fireworks displays - the universe puts on a far better show for them all year round. One such ultra-impressive artifact is "The Arches", megascale ribbons of hot plasma flowing around the supermassive black hole at the core of our galaxy.
The Arches might sound like the name of a detached cottage - but if anybody does live here, it's Zeus's big brother. The name comes from their distinctive shape, which work at the California Institute of Technology indicates is due to massive magnetic fields. These fields become extremely intense as matter is crushed on its way into the black hole, and the magnetic field lines get crushed together along with them. According to Doctor Serabyn and Professor Morris, these magnetic fields channel vast streamers of hot plasma which radiate energy visible from Earth (if you have the right equipment, and being in orbit probably wouldn't hurt).
"Sagittarius A*" (pronounced A-star) is a much less poetic name, and seems quite insufficient considering its meant to describe one of the most immense objects known to science. One reason for the unimpressive moniker is that scientists didn't know what it was when they first saw it, except that it was in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. Another reason is probably that if astronomers had to describe it as "singularity in space and time the mass of four million suns and larger than the entire solar system", they wouldn't get any work done because they'd need a break to settle down every few minutes.
The study of Sgr A*, as its friends call it, is a great example of some of the progress and problems faced by astronomy. Initially observers couldn't even be sure that the Arches were connected to the black hole, or whether they were a "foreground object" - something that just happened to be in the same direction. Observing an entire universe from only one vantage point means we literally don't have any perspective - ancient astronomers thought the entire heavens were a single sphere with all the lights on it - and only ingenious inventions and intelligent analyses allow us to work out what's moving and where.
And to take awesome pictures.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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