The recently discovered star's short orbit allows scientists to gather data faster (Photo : NASA- Screen Capture)
Near the center of the Milky Way lies a star swiftly orbiting a nearby black hole which, according to scientists, may hold the key to testing Einstein's theory of relativity.
Dubbed S0-102, the star was observed by NASA's Swift Satellite when it let off a rare X-ray nova.
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Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, explains that "bright x-ray novae are so rare that they're essentially once-a-mission events and this is the first one Swift has seen. This is really something we've been waiting for."
Novas occur occurs when a neutron star or black hole releases stored gas. According to National Geographic, "S0-102 is only the second star identified as being in short orbit around the Milky Way's black hole-the other, S0-2, takes about 16 years."
Astronomer Andrea Ghez states, "I'm extremely pleased to find two stars that orbit our galaxy's supermassive black hole in much less than a human lifetime."
The speedy orbit allows scientists to gather data about the effect that a black hole exerts on gravity. The black-hole is named Sagittarius A, and would require a 26,000 light-year trip to reach.
"The fact that we can find stars that are so close to the black hole is phenomenal. Now it's a whole new ballgame, in terms of the kinds of experiments we can do to understand how black holes grow over time, the role supermassive black holes play in the centre of galaxies, and whether Einstein's theory of general relativity is valid near a black hole, where this theory has never been tested before," says Ghez.
So, what are the implications? Harvard theoretical astrophysicist concludes that "this is such an important discovery, because for stars located closer to the black hole, the gravitational field to study gets stronger and the effects more pronounced."
The study was originally published in the journal Science.