A newly found object hurtling towards the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is likely to be consumed by it in about 18 months, predict astronomers.
The expected 2013 rendezvous of the object the size of a small planet, which is rushing towrads the black hole at a speed of five million miles an hour, may offer scientists first ever opportunity to witness such an event.
Initially, the object, which was discovered using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, was thought to be a gas cloud formed from material from nearby stars.
Now, an analysis from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics suggested that the newly found object could have a different origin -- and form a disc of material that would have gone on to form planets, had its parent star not been pulled towards the supermassive black hole.
The scientists think that the star might have been pulled out of a ring of young stars, hinting that many planet-forming discs and even planets could exist in the heart of our galaxy.
"Essentially, we have never seen before how any black hole in the universe is being fed," said study co-author Stefan Gillessen, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.
"Now we have the chance to watch something fall in," he was quoted as saying by the 'scientificamerican.com'.
The 2013 impact will allow us to determine, whether the object is a gas cloud or a star complete with proto-planetary material, the scientists said.
They believe that the black hole might rip the gas cloud apart and pull it inward, producing a detectable surge in x-ray emissions as the gas compresses and heats up.
Depending on how the cloud breaks up, the black hole may feed on it for years to come, significantly brightening the faint glow that emanates from just outside the edge of the black hole, its event horizon, and providing astrophysicists a unique view of black hole digestion, they reported in the journal Nature.