Scientists catch supermassive black hole burping - twice

Olive Hawkins
January 13, 2018

A supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy gobbled up gas - then released two "burps" in the form of blasts of high-energy particles.

Scientists captured images of burping of the black hole and presented it to the American Astronomical Society.

The black hole is millions, if not billions, of times larger than the sun, NASA said, and was emitting X-rays as its tremendous gravity and magnetic force warmed up the gas "to millions of degrees". Great plumes of gas, matter and radiation can be ejected by black holes, and in fact, scientists theorized that these "burps" ought to come at pretty quick intervals if a black hole is well fed. The Galaxy is known as J1354, which is around 900 million light years away from Earth. While astronomers have predicted such objects can flicker on and off as a result of gas feeding events, this is one of the few times one has been caught in the act.

'We are seeing this object feast, burp, and nap, and then feast and burp once again, which theory had predicted, ' said Julie Comerford of the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder's Department of Astrophysical and Space Science, who led the study. For comparison, one light-year is roughly six trillion miles. In purple is data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, while Hubble Space Telescope data is in red, green and blue. The Apache Point facility is owned by the Astrophysical Research Consortium, a group of 10 US research institutions that includes CU Boulder.

But they saw a remnant of another belch that occurred 100,000 years earlier.

Supermassive black holes are commonly found at the centers of galaxies, including the Milky Way.

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"Our galaxy's supermassive black hole is now napping after a big meal, just like J1354's black hole has in the past".

Researchers in Colorado noticed that it let off jets of bright light from the gas it consumed twice over the course of 100,000 years.

The researchers think the black hole erupted twice because it consumed two separate meals. "So we also expect our massive black hole to feast again, just as J1354's has".

'The two-course meal for the black hole comes from a companion galaxy that collided with J1354 in the past, ' Nasa said in a statement. "We were able to show that the gas from the north part of the galaxy was consistent with an advancing edge of a shock wave, and the gas from the south was consistent with an older quasar outflow".

Julie also said that this galactic burp is nothing to worry about. A 2010 study discovered gamma-ray "bubbles" that extend some 50,000 light-years end-to-end from the center of our galaxy. She added that if our solar system was close to the black hole than it would be hazardous for us.

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