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Centre of the Milky Way ‘recently’ exploded

The black hole at the centre of the Milky Way recently exploded according to new research, shooting expanding beams of energy into deep space like a nuclear lighthouse,

New research has discovered that the event, known as a Seyfert flare, created two cones of ionising radiation which sliced through the galaxy and even impacted cosmic bodies outside of it.

Occurring just 3.5 million years ago – practically last week on a cosmic scale – the flare was so powerful that it hit the Magellanic Stream, a trail of gas extending between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, nearby dwarf galaxies.

The Milky Way's Galactic Centre, Jupiter (brightest spot in the centre-left of the image) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) galaxy (right bottom corner) are seen late on May 10, 2019 from the Uruguayan countryside in the department of Soriano, near the village of Andresito, department of Flores. (Photo by Mariana SUAREZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Our sun is one of many stars which make up the Milky Way

According to Australian and American researchers, the explosion was too huge to have been caused by anything other than nuclear activity associated with the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

That black hole, known as Saggitarius A, is more than four million times as massive as our sun.

Just over three million years ago it sent out a flare which “must have been a bit like a lighthouse beam,” said Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn, who led the research.

“Imagine darkness, and then someone switches on a lighthouse beacon for a brief period of time.

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“A massive blast of energy and radiation came right out of the galactic centre and into the surrounding material.

“This shows that the centre of the Milky Way is a much more dynamic place than we had previously thought. It is lucky we’re not residing there!”

Using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, Professor Bland-Hawthorn and her researchers calculated that the massive explosion took place little more than three million years ago.

In galactic terms, that is astonishingly recent explained the team at the research centre ASTRO 3-D.

Scientists used data from the Hubble space telescope, seen here floating above the Earth. Pic: NASA/ESA
Image: Scientists used data from the Hubble space telescope, seen here floating above the Earth. Pic: NASA/ESA

At the time on Earth, the asteroid that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs was already 63 million years in the past, and humanity’s ancient ancestors, the Australopithecines, were walking in Africa.

The team of scientists was led by Professor Bland-Hawthorn from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophics in 3-dimensons (ASTRO 3D) and their work will be published in The Astrophyical Journal.

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