Scientists Find Hungry Supermassive Black Hole Eating 3 Meals Daily

first_img Scientists Behind First Black Hole Image Win $3 Million PrizeChandra X-Ray Data May Have Revealed Most Distant ‘Cloaked’ Black Hole Scientists recently discovered a supermassive black hole that is not following a typical celestial “diet.”A team of astronomers detected X-ray bursts repeating roughly every nine hours and they come from the center of a galaxy named GSN 069, NASA said in a press release. Data obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton shows that the supermassive black hole located there is consuming a lot of material on a regular basis. Even though scientists previously found two “stellar-mass” black holes occasionally having outbursts, this weird behavior has never been sensed from a supermassive black hole before.The supermassive black hole, which is at the heart of GSN 069, is located 250 million light years from our planet and contains approximately 400,000 times the mass of the sun. In a new study, which was published in Nature on September 11, researchers estimate that the supermassive black hole is “eating” roughly four moons’ worth of material about three times a day.“This black hole is on a meal plan like we’ve never seen before,” said Giovanni Miniutti from ESA’s Center for Astrobiology in Spain. “This behavior is so unprecedented that we had to coin a new expression to describe it: “X-ray Quasi-Periodic Eruptions.”ESA’s XMM-Newton first detected two bursts in GSN 069 on Deptember 24, 2018, while Miniutti and his team followed up with additional XMM-Newton observations and found five outbursts in the same galaxy on January 16 and January 17 this year. Chandra X-ray Observatory observations also revealed three more outbursts on February 14.We can’t “see” it, but here is an animation showing the X-ray image of the galaxy GSN 069 together with the variations in its X-ray brightness as measured during nearly 40 hours of XMM-Newton exposure. Each frame corresponds to 3 minutes. [credit G. MIniutti and M. Giustini]— SAAO (@SAAO) September 12, 2019During the outbursts, the X-ray emission becomes roughly 20 times more illuminated than during the quiet times. Gas falling towards the black hole also rises in temperature, from approximately one million degrees Fahrenheit during the quiet periods to about 2.5 million degrees Fahrenheit during the X-ray outbursts, which is similar to that of gas present around most actively growing supermassive black holes.“We think the origin of the X-ray emission is a star that the black hole has partially or completely torn apart and is slowly consuming bit by bit,” said co-author Margherita Giustini, also of ESA’s Center for Astrobiology. “But as for the repeating bursts, this is a completely different story whose origin needs to be studied with further data and new theoretical models.”Spectacularly rapid and regular X-ray eruptions observed from the active galaxy GSN 069. These galactic hiccups recur on timescales of hours and should be related to the matter flowing onto the galaxy’s central black hole: Image: Nature, Miniutti et al.— Xavi Bros (@Xavi_Bros) September 11, 2019The study’s authors suggest two possible explanations for these repetitive X-ray bursts. One is that the amount of energy in the disk grows until it becomes unstable and matter falls fast into the black hole producing the bursts and the cycle would repeat. The other states that there is an interaction between the disk and a secondary body orbiting the black hole, which could be the remains of a partially disrupted star.By combining data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton, scientists imply that the duration and size of the supermassive black hole’s meals have slightly decreased, while the gap between the meals has increased. More observations will be needed to see if this trend continues, since supermassive black holes typically erupt every few months or years instead of every nine hours.More on Behind First Black Hole Image Win $3 Million PrizeChandra X-Ray Data May Have Revealed Most Distant ‘Cloaked’ Black HoleHubble Space Telescope Discovers Bizarre Black Hole Disk Stay on targetlast_img read more