A mysterious cloud-like object that survived a close encounter with a black hole might be a merged pair of stars.
Andrea Ghez of the University of California in Los Angeles and her team used the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to observe the object, called G2. In March, it was nearly engulfed by our Galaxy's central supermassive black hole.
Previous observations using specific wavelengths of light indicated that it was a young cloud of gas, which would have been stretched or devoured by the black hole. But the team's infrared images showed no clear change in G2's appearance. Instead, the researchers suggest that the object is a pair of stars that have recently merged, perhaps owing to the presence of the black hole.
The black hole's gravity could be disrupting the dynamics of nearby binary systems, causing them to coalesce, according to the authors.