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Black Hole Facts

While astronomers are quite sure that black holes exist, they have never really seen one. They just know they are there because everything around them begins to act just as strange as a black hole does! If you were to put a spacesuit on and float around in space relatively close to a black hole, then you are very likely to get sucked in. What do you think would happen to you if you were to get inside a black hole? Quite amazingly, you would get stretched to a size that would make you quite a lot taller than your friends and family!

The dusty center of the Milky Way

A look at the dusty center of the Milky Way.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/ Caltech).

It’s pretty fair to say black holes are hungry all of the time and they are always wondering where their next galactic meal is coming from. Quite recently in December 2011, astronomers have noticed that our Galaxy’s black hole has set its sights on a nearby cloud of dust and gas. The scientists who have been watching this cloud for the past seven years with huge telescopes in Chile, South America, have noticed that not only is this cloud moving in the direction of the black hole, but it has also doubled in speed reaching more than 8 million kilometres per hour – now that is pretty fast! Astronomers think that this supermassive black hole will get its meal in a couple of years’ time. But what happens when it does? Well, seeing as our strange friend has no manners, it is very likely to belch out very powerful beams of high energy X-ray radiation when it has finished eating – just like the X-rays you might have had at the dentist, but much more powerful!

The European Southern Observatory’s Very LargeTelescope (VLT) used to study the center of theMilky Way. Credit: ESO/F. Kamphues

Credit: ESO.
Visual design and editing: Martin Kornmesser and Luis Calçada.
Editing: Herbert Zodet.
Web and technical support: Lars Holm Nielsen and Raquel Yumi Shida.
Written by: Mathieu Isidro and Richard Hook.
Narration: Gaitee Hussain.
Music: zero-project ( and movetwo.
Footage and photos: ESO, MPE/M. Schartmann, MPE/Nick Risinger ( Emerson/Digitized Sky Survey 2, Luis Calçada, Stéphane Guisard (,José Francisco Salgado (
Directed by: Richard Hook and Herbert Zodet.
Executive producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen.