Special Reviews

The Galactic Center: An Interacting System of Unusual Sources

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Science  07 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5450, pp. 85-91
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5450.85

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The region bounded by the inner tens of light-years at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy contains five principal components that coexist within the central deep well of gravitational potential. These constituents are a black hole candidate (Sgr A*) with a mass equivalent to 2.6 ± 0.2 × 106 solar masses, a surrounding cluster of evolved stars, a complex of young stars, molecular and ionized gas clouds, and a powerful supernova-like remnant. The interaction of these components is responsible for many of the phenomena occurring in this complex and unique portion of the Galaxy. Developing a consistent picture of the primary interactions between the components at the Galactic center will improve our understanding of the nature of galactic nuclei in general, and will provide us with a better-defined set of characteristics of black holes. For example, the accretion of stellar winds by Sgr A* appears to produce far less radiation than indicated by estimates based on models of galactic nuclei.

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