June 19, 1998
Web posted at: 10:29 a.m. EDT (1429 GMT)

A disk of dust is swirling around a black hole in galaxy NGC 7052

BALTIMORE (CNN) -- A giant hubcap is spinning away in space. Well, that's what it looks like, anyway.

NASA says it's a disk of dust that's swirling around a massive black hole at the center of a galaxy called NGC 7052.

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of the object, which NASA released on Thursday.

A black hole is an astronomical object of extreme compactness and incredibly strong gravitational pull. Once light -- or anything else -- enters a black hole, it can never escape.

Astronomers believe the gaseous dust cloud, which measures 3,700 light-years across, could be left over from an ancient collision of galaxies. They believe the black hole is slowly swallowing up the gas.

A light-year is the distance light travels in one year at the rate of 186,282 miles per second. That works out to about 5.88 trillion miles.

The disk of dust appears to be rotating like a carousel around the black hole at a rate of 341,000 mph, the scientists said.

The black hole sits at the center of a galaxy of stars, and is 300 million times the mass of Earth's sun.