The team of astronomers has employed a pioneering technique to produce the highest-quality image yet obtained of the curved filament near our galaxy’s super massive black hole. Harvard Gazette

A team of astronomers has captured the image of a cosmic filament that seems to enter the giant black hole, called Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

The filament, discovered in 2016, is about 2.3 light-years long and looks like it is pointing or curving towards the supermassive black hole.

Now, researchers have captured stunning high-resolution images of this space thread that might finally offer some clues about what the exact nature of the phenomena.

The filament was discovered by Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Northwestern University in 2016. This unusual “snake-like” filament was located and observed using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) telescope .

“With our improved image, we can now follow this filament much closer to the galaxy’s central black hole, and it is now close enough to indicate to us that it must originate there,” said Mark Morris of the University of California, Los Angeles, lead of the study in a Harvard Gazette press release. “However, we still have more work to do to find out what the true nature of this filament is.”

Now, the team has offered possible theories on what this filament could be. One of the theories proffered in the release suggests that the string and the black hole have no correlation and that its presence at the center of Sagittarius A* is just a coincidence. This would imply that several of these must exist but only one has been spotted. This showed the team that this was not just a random occurrence.

The second theory suggests that it was formed as high-speed particles were shot out of the supermassive black hole. Black holes that are constantly spinning could cause columns of gas to spiral inwards. This combination can produce a magnetic field that approaches the event horizon (the point of no return inside the black hole) which could cause particles to speed up and shoot outward while spiraling around the field.

Another theory suggests that the filament is a cosmic string, one of the unexplained but theoretically proven entities in space. They are said to be long, extremely thin objects that carry mass and electric currents.

“Part of the thrill of science is stumbling across a mystery that is not easy to solve,” said co-author Jun-Hui Zhao of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “While we don’t have the answer yet, the path to finding it is fascinating. This result is motivating astronomers to build next generation radio telescopes with cutting edge technology.”

The cosmic string has never been documented below. If it is confirmed it would provide the first evidence for a highly speculative idea with profound implications for understanding gravity, space-time and the universe itself.

If this is in fact a cosmic string, it should move at a high fraction of the speed of light. Close study with the VLA for a duration should be able to detect the corresponding shift in position of the filament, said the release.

A paper describing the results appeared in the Dec. 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.