At the center of the Milky Way is a carnivorous monster known as Sagittarius A*. Saggy A* is a supermassive black hole, more than four hundred million times the mass of our sun. SA* isn’t special, though—giant black holes are thought to lie at the center of all spiral-type galaxies.
Earlier this year, a multi-institutional team of researchers discovered that a proto-planetary gas cloud was on a collision course with SA*. What’s important about this discovery is the revelation that stars—and potentially, planets—can form in the “cosmic war zone” that is the center of our galaxy.
Stars form slowly in gas clouds and nebulas—a few clumps of molecules stick together, and they grow larger and larger as they attract more molecules with their gravity, and eventually a star forms. The heavy elements are forced to the star’s core while hydrogen and helium form the stars nuclear power plant atmosphere. Out in the other areas of the gas cloud, other molecules are clumping together in another uniquely spectacular way: rocky planets, gassy planets, wet planets, small planets, icy planets, and so on.
The gas cloud in question (pictured above, in an artist’s representation) is still a baby; the research team believes a low-mass star exists in the gas cloud, but planets have not yet had a chance to form. Just another young, promising proto-planetary nebula, its life cut short by the mass-eat-mass world of the universe.