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Swarms of black holes and small rock earth like planets in the Milky Way galaxy

28 July 2010

At www.dailygalaxy.com July 28th there are two interesting stories. The first concerns the claim the Milky Way is rich in small rocky earth like planets (with a video clip of the sky in support of the text). Hence, there are lots of earth like planets out there which might harbour life – which explains why Martin Rees, elsewhere, the Astronomer Royal and Royal Society bigwig, was confident that life would be found in the not too distant future.

The second story has the lovely engaging title, ‘Swarms of Black Holes and Neutron Stars orbiting the Supermassive Monster at the Milky Way Core’ – some 10,000 black holes may be orbiting the huge black hole surmised to be at the heart of our galaxy, and NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory provides an image that just might reflect what the headline proclaims. It had been predicted a decade ago that ‘dynamical friction’ would cause black holes to sink towards the centre of the galaxy where they pull in surrounding stars. Therefore, it was expected by some astronmers that just this kind of activity would be found – and hey presto. Japanese astronomers have joined in the game and one of them said, ‘we have wondered why the Milky Way black hole appears to be a slumbering giant but we now realise it was far more active in the past. Perhaps it is just resting …’ – is this an example of oriental mockery? (how to keep a straight face without your eyebrows twitching). Seriously, the Japanese have satellites studying the same region of the galaxy, trying their best to see the black hole. Now, there are swarms of them circling and flouncing about – but they still can’t see them. The European Space Agency also has satellites doing something similar – but is it because they are black they can’t be seen in the dark? No, emphatically no, these things are associated with very bright light. Am I missing something here? Astronomers now think there was a surge in black hole activity 300 years ago and clouds of gas lit up and faded over a 10 year period of intense activity. The Japanese say the black hole was a million times brighter 300 years ago – it must have unleashed an incredibly powerful flare. Another idea is that a giant star exploded, the blast wave ploughing gas and dust into the black hole creating a temporary feeding frenzy. Strewth! Black holes behaving like piranha fish – is it the Daily Galaxy scribbler or the scientists?

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