The literal death spiral of a gas cloud as it races towards its doom inside a black hole at the heart of our galaxy has been captured by astronomers.
The European Southern Observatory are watching the last moments of the cloud, known as G2, in real time with the help of their Very Large Telescope.
They now report that the cloud has begun its death plunge, and writing in the Astrophysical Journal say that the head of the cloud is now moving much more quickly than the back.
The result is that the cloud - three times as wide Pluto's orbit around the Sun but with a mass just three times that of Earth - is now stretched out across space by the black hole's massive gravity.
"The gas at the head of the cloud is now stretched over more than 160 billion kilometres around the closest point of the orbit to the black hole. And the closest approach is only a bit more than 25 billion kilometres from the black hole itself — barely escaping falling right in," said Stefan Gillessen at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.
"The cloud is so stretched that the close approach is not a single event but rather a process that extends over a period of at least one year."
The front end of the cloud has already passed the black hole and is speeding back towards our part of the galaxy at more than 1% the speed of light.
Take a look at the death spiral's progress in the video above.
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