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A strange type of star never before found near the Milky Way’s center is providing new clues about the bizarre behavior of the supermassive black hole lurking at the heart of our galaxy.

The black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A* for short), is as massive as 4 million suns and is thought to have played a critical role in shaping the Milky Way. Yet it somehow devours only a tiny fraction of its available food supply—a smorgasbord of gas and dust cast off by nearby stars, notes radio astronomer Heino Falcke of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. That’s a puzzle astronomers have been trying to solve for years.

Observations of an elderly, rapidly rotating star known as a pulsar in the vicinity of Sgr A* have now provided the first sensitive measure of the magnetic field associated with the black hole. The strength of that field may help account for Sgr A*’s poor eating habits, Falcke and his colleagues report online today in Nature.

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