A number of bizarre shape-shifting objects have been discovered close to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

The blobs are thought to be giant stars that spend part of their orbits so close to the black hole that they get stretched out like bubble gum before returning to a compact, roughly spherical form.

“These objects look like gas and behave like stars,” said Andrea Ghez, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California Los Angeles and a co-author of the paper.

The observations raise the prospect of being able to track one of the objects as they drift across the point of no return and vanish over the black hole’s event horizon into oblivion.

Ziri Younsi, an astrophysicist who researches black holes at University College London – who was not involved in the latest work – said: “The dream is that one of the orbits is eccentric enough that we get lucky and it will be swallowed. That will be really cool because we can get to see the black hole feeding in action.”

The first of the unusual objects (later named G1) showed up on an astronomical survey in 2005 and was thought to be an astronomical anomaly until a second, similar object, G2, was spotted by German astronomers in 2012.


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