When scientists start throwing the word “weird” around, you know things are getting interesting in the cosmos.
In this case, scientists are particularly baffled by a group of mysterious objects have been found hanging around the center of the Milky Way.
What are they exactly? How did they come to be? And what’s their relationship with that other occupant at the heart of our galaxy — the supermassive black hole that’s been giving us strange looks ever since it was discovered more than 40 years ago?
Presenting their findings at this week’s conference of the American Astronomical Society, scientists have cobbled together only scant details about these celestial stragglers.
What we do know is that there are five objects — the three announced this week joined two that had already been known. The objects are dubbed G1, G2… all the way to G5.
They also produce a vivid red light, but from a thermal perspective the objects are cool. That would suggest they’re sheathed in a cloud of dust.
And they’re weird.
“They’re weird because they are not gas nebulae, they’re not stars, so we think they’re something in the middle, a stellar object surrounded by gas and dust,” Anna Ciurlo, an astronomer at the University of California Los Angeles, told Newsweek, “like a star that’s been puffed up.”
They also have the extraordinary ability to resist the gravitational pull of their neighbor, the aforementioned supermassive hole that’s notorious for not taking no for an answer.
That black hole, called Sagittarius A*, has a mass of about 4 million suns — more than enough, one would think, to swallow any celestial tourists dawdling nearby.
So what’s keeping these “G-objects” from becoming black hole bait? The researchers suggest they could be its offspring. Black holes are known to shred stars that pass too close. They can also accelerate a collision between paired stars.
In this case, the research teams suspects a celestial collision may have given birth to G-objects. Certainly, we know the heart of the Milky Way is a crowded, bustling place.
So why don’t they topple into that event horizon? Well, maybe they still will — and maybe more of these objects will be spawned.
“It’s still all ongoing analysis, we are not totally sure that is the right interpretation,” Ciurlo told Newsweek.
Of course, when it comes to objects some 26,000 light-years away — objects which can’t actually be seen but rather detected — one needs a universe of patience.
And a certain tolerance for weirdness.