But this period of quiescence is about to change.
As the gas falls into its death spiral, it will get stretched out and experience rapid heating as it interacts with the gases surrounding the black hole's accretion disk. As more matter feeds the disk, it is predicted that X-ray emissions will cause the region near the event horizon to blast X-rays hundreds or thousands of times their usual intensity, which will be easily detectable.
Some of the gas will be ejected from the black hole, to continue its orbit, but it will never be the same again.
Beginning in 2012, space observatories like NASA's Chandra X-ray Space Telescope will be attentively staring into the core of our galaxy, watching the black hole picnic unfold.
Gillessen's team's work is set to appear in the Jan. 5 edition of the journal Nature.
*Just in case you were waiting for me to mention Muse and a certain song about a rather large black hole... here you go!
SCIENCE CHANNEL PHOTOS: The Riddle of Black Holes
Image: A screenshot of a simulation of the black hole encounter - after close approach, the cloud will be a turbulent mess. Credit: ESO/MPE/M. Schartmann/L. Calçada