Local Black Hole About to Chow Down
Milky Way's super-massive black hole to devour gas cloud
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2011 3:18 AM CST
Just like Star Trek: A simulation shows how the black hole will rip the gas cloud apart.   (European Southern Observatory)

(Newser) – The super-massive black hole at the heart of our galaxy is about to have a feast—and astronomers think it's going to be messy. A giant gas cloud has been spotted approaching the black hole, which lies some 27,000 light years from Earth. Scientists believe the cloud will enter its maw sometime in 2013 and will be consumed over the following decade, giving them their first good look at how a black hole feeds, the BBC reports.

The cloud, which is expected to emit a huge flare of radiation as it passes the point of no return, is beginning to elongate as it approaches the black hole. "The idea of an astronaut close to a black hole being stretched out to resemble spaghetti is familiar from science fiction," says an expert on extraterrestrial physics. "But we can now see this happening for real to the newly discovered cloud. It is not going to survive the experience."