A baby star which is younger than the human race (just tens of thousands of years old) has been spotted in a rather dangerous location – right next to a huge black hole.
The baby star, known as X3a is so close to the vast supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) at the centre of our Milky Way that scientists thought at first it shouldn’t be able to exist.
The black hole is thought to pull in stars, gas clouds and planets, devouring them with its huge gravity.
The researchers say that the star formed in a dust cloud orbiting the black hole – and sank closer after it had formed.
The area around the black hole is very hostile; it is filled with hard X-ray and UV radiation, which act against the formation of stars like our sun.
Scientists had assumed that over periods of billions of years, only old, evolved stars can settle in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole.
But 20 years ago, several very young stars were found in the immediate vicinity of Sgr A*. It is still not clear how these stars got there or where they formed.
The occurrence of very young stars very close to the supermassive black hole has been referred to as "the paradox of youth".
The baby star X3a—which is 10 times as big and 15 times as heavy as our sun—could now close the gap between star formation and the young stars in the immediate vicinity of Sgr A*.
X3a needs special conditions to form in the immediate vicinity of the black hole.
Lead author Dr. Florian Peißker explained, "It turns out that there is a region at a distance of a few light years from the black hole which fulfils the conditions for star formation. This region, a ring of gas and dust, is sufficiently cold and shielded against destructive radiation."
Low temperatures and high densities create an environment in which clouds of hundreds of solar masses can form.