Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have discovered a gas cloud with several times the mass of the Earth accelerating fast towards the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. This is the first time ever that the approach of such a doomed cloud to a supermassive black hole has been observed. The results will be published in the 5 January 2012 issue of the journal Nature.
During a 20-year programme using ESO telescopes to monitor the movement of stars around the supermassive black hole – eso0846, formally known as Sgr A*  Sagittarius A – at the centre of our galaxy, a team of astronomers led by Reinhard Genzel at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics – MPE – in Garching, Germany, has discovered a unique new object fast approaching the black hole.
Over the last seven years, the speed of this object has nearly doubled, reaching more than 8 million km/h. It is on a very elongated orbit  and in mid-2013 it will pass at a distance of only about 40 billion kilometres from the event horizon of the black hole, a distance of about 36 light-hours . This is an extremely close encounter with a supermassive black hole in astronomical terms. Read the full article »»»»