Researchers may have figured out how the 100 or so stars around the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole could have formed. Stars emerge when clouds of hydrogen molecules coalesce under their collective gravitational attraction. The gravity around a supermassive black hole, however, should have shredded such a cloud like paint dropped on an eggbeater before it got a chance to make stars. Astrophysicists simulated the fate of a hydrogen cloud as massive as 10,000 suns that suddenly wafted near a black hole. Although much of the cloud would splatter, shock waves and other turbulence would drain the angular momentum out of the inner 10 percent. That material would take up orbit around the black hole and give time for stars to form. The August 22 Science brought the results to light.
This article was originally published with the title "Star Making around Holes" in Scientific American 299, 5, 34 (November 2008)