Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Scientists catch supermassive black hole burping - twice

Scientists catch supermassive black hole burping - twice

This particular black hole has been spotted burping not once, but twice, showing just how imprecise the process of being gobbled up by a black hole can become when a lot of matter is pouring into one all at once.

Scientists have combined images of the J1354 galaxy, which is located 800 million light-years away. These supermassive black holes are million times heavier than the Sun and scientists consider that these holes are in the centre of every galaxy.

A paper on the subject was published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

'Black holes are voracious eaters, but it also turns out they don't have very good table manners, ' study coauthor and University of Colorado scientist Dr Julie Comerford told the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC, yesterday. For comparison, one light-year is roughly six trillion miles.

X-rays from the distant galaxy were detected by the Chandra telescope and later, the Hubble Space Telescope. The Apache Point facility is owned by the Astrophysical Research Consortium, a group of 10 US research institutions that includes CU Boulder.

Researchers believe the black hole is behaving this way because it is consuming a huge amount of nearby matter.

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The explanation for these gas-feeding events lies in a companion galaxy, which had previously collided with J1354.

This is an image of galaxy SDSS J1354 1327 (lower center) and its companion galaxy SDSS J1354 1328 (upper right). While even light can not escape the pull of one of these gravity wells, blacks holes do, very occasionally, "burp" back out chunks of half-consumed gas. She added that if our solar system was close to the black hole than it would be hazardous for us.

"This galaxy really caught us off guard", said CU Boulder doctoral student Rebecca Nevin, a study co-author who used data from Apache Point to look at the velocities and intensities of light from the gas and stars in J1354. "This new burp is actually moving like a shock wave - it's coming out very fast, and so it's kind of like a sonic boom of a burp, whereas the gas to the south shows us an older burp that happens 100,000 years earlier before that newer burp".

Comerford said the team observed a remnant emission south of the center of the galaxy that indicated there was a black hole feasting event roughly a million years ago.

Even our Milky Way galaxy has had at least one burp, said Comerford. Researchers said that they could see this object having meal, nap and belch and repeating these activities.

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