Elena Murchikova, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., worked with her colleagues to use data gathered in 2015 by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to discover a thin accretion disk of cool gas extremely close to Milky Way’s black hole, Sagittarius A*.
Material from the inner disk was observed to spiral inward in the form of streams. This was a very important result for the team because earlier studies could not reveal how material surrounding black holes interacted with the monstrous giant.
The cool debris can now help in solving mysteries like that of G2 – a strange object that was predicted to be shredded once close enough to Sagittarius A* but unexpectedly passed by unharmed.
While the new results are ground-breaking, there is skepticism about whether the disk was really spotted, as such a thing had never been observed before. With ALMA’s latest updates, Murchikova and her colleagues plan to study the cold disk again, to confirm its presence, and determine why it is so unusually bright.
This study can help us better understand Sagittarius A*, which could tell us more about how black holes and galaxies develop over time.