Saturday, July 22, 2006


The one-way journey from the heart of a galaxy into the oblivion of a black hole probably takes about 200,000 years, astronomers said on Monday.
By tracking the death spiral of cosmic gas at the center of a galaxy called NGC1097, scientists figured that material moving at 110,000 miles an hour would still take eons to cross into a black hole.
Black holes are drains in space that have gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. Huge ones are believed to lurk at the centers of many galaxies including the Milky Way, which contains the sun.
"It would take 200,000 years for gas to travel the last leg of its one-way journey," Kambiz Fathi of Rochester Institute of Technology told reporters at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
No one has ever seen a black hole, but astronomers study the way matter and energy behave around them.
An international team led by Fathi studied the black hole at the middle of NGC1097, a behemoth with 100 million times the mass of the sun.
The team managed to observe behavior 10 times closer to the black hole than ever before, Fathi said, seeing clouds of material within 10 light-years of the galactic core, where the black hole is believed to reside.
Previous research has detected gas clouds from 100 to 1,000 light-years from the galaxy's heart.
A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year. The galaxy is about 47 million light-years away from Earth, relatively close in cosmic terms.

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