Artist's concept of the center of our galaxyThis artist’s concept illustrates the frenzied activity at the core of our Milky Way galaxy. The galactic center hosts a supermassive black hole in the region known as Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, with a mass of about four million times that of our sun. Image credit: ESA–C. Carreau › Full image and caption  › Image gallery

The Herschel space observatory has made detailed observations of surprisingly hot gas that may be orbiting or falling towards the supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation.

“The black hole appears to be devouring the gas,” said Paul Goldsmith, the U.S. project scientist for Herschel at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “This will teach us about how supermassive black holes grow.”

Our galaxy’s black hole is located in a region known as Sagittarius A* — or Sgr A* for short — which is a nearby source of radio waves. The black hole has a mass about four million times that of our sun and lies roughly 26,000 light-years away from our solar system.

Even at that distance, it is a few hundred times closer to us than any other galaxy with an active black hole at its center, making it the ideal natural laboratory to study the environment around these enigmatic objects. At Herschel’s far-infrared wavelengths, scientists can peer through the dust in our galaxy and study the turbulent innermost region of the galaxy in great detail.

via NASA – Milky Way Black Hole Snacks on Hot Gas.