The supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, named Sagittarius A*, could one day consume Earth if our planet is nudged that way through space. As it stands, the black hole is 26,000 lightyears from Earth, so we are in the safe zone. One light-year is 5.88 trillion miles. However, when the Sun begins to expand as it dies out, the solar winds could nudge Earth from its orbit and push the planet towards the centre of the galaxy where the Sagittarius A* resides.
Charles Steinhardt, an astrophysicist from the University of Copenhagen, wrote on Q&A site Quora: “If we do manage to survive being kicked out of the galaxy, then eventually the Sun (or Earth) will fall into the central galactic supermassive black hole after around 10^30 years (1 nonillion).
“Current estimates are that there’s about a few percent chance that this happens. So, if we wait long enough, yes, we might end up merging with our central supermassive black hole.
“In this case, long enough doesn’t mean millions of years, but about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 million years!”
The more likely scenario is that the Sun will expand rapidly in about three billion years, burning Earth to a crisp as it does so.
Mr Steinhardt continued: “During its red giant stage, the Sun will expand to become large enough to cover the Earth’s orbit.
“So, one possibility is that the Earth ultimately is swallowed by the Sun.
“However, as the Sun is dying, it will emit a strong ‘wind’ that could push the Earth’s orbit outward to as much as a 50 percent larger radius, which means it’s also possible that the Earth will survive.
“Our current best estimate seems to be that the Earth will lose this race, and get swallowed before it gets far enough away.”
Black holes are some of the mysterious and most powerful entities in the universe – but what is known of them is terrifying.
They completely break the laws of physics with their singularity at the centre, which is a one-dimensional point where gravity becomes infinite and space and time become curved.
The only other point in nature where a singularity existed is at the Big Bang.
There are a few ways in which a black hole can form.
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Scientists believe the most common instance is when a star, thousands of times the size of the Sun, collapses in on itself when it dies – known as a supernova.
Another way is when a large amount of matter, which can be in the form of a gas cloud or a star collapses in on itself through its own gravitational pull.
Finally, the collision of two neutron stars can cause a black hole.
The gist of all three ways is that a massive amount of mass located in one spot can cause a black hole.
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