Scientists Caught Distant Supermassive Black Hole Burping

Bright light from gas the black hole is accreting. Pic NASA, ESA and J. Comerford

Bright light from gas the black hole is accreting. Pic NASA, ESA and J. Comerford

Scientists have watched a distant black hole burp out clouds of high energy particles-twice. The team used observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, as well as the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Apache Point Observatory (APO) near Sunspot, New Mexico. She said that their team was fortunate enough to observe the galaxy hosting the super massive black hole a t a time when they could clearly see the evidence for both the burping events.

So, why did this black hole get seconds after its dinner?

The team concluded that material from the companion galaxy swirled into the center of J1354 and then was eaten by the supermassive black hole.

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The results indicate that in the past, the supermassive black hole in J1354 appears to have consumed, or accreted, large amounts of gas while blasting off an outflow of high-energy particles. This release of material eventually stopped before resuming again around 100,000 years later. The Chandra's X-ray observatory's website stated that the latest discovery is a strong evidence that the combining and growing black holes can switch their power off and on again over timescales that are short when compared to the 13.8 billion-year-old Universe. "That collision led gas to stream towards the supermassive black hole and feed it two separate meals that led to these two separate burps".

"There's a stream of stars and gas connecting these two galaxies". X-ray emission from the galaxy in question - called SDSS J1354+1327 - was picked up by the Chandra telescope, allowing researchers to pinpoint the location of its central black hole. But when they were analyzing at a black hole burp that occurred nearly 100,000 years ago, they found out another new belch coming out from the same cosmic sinkhole.

"This galaxy really caught us off guard", said study author and University of Colorado Boulder doctoral student Rebecca Nevin. About 100,000 years apart, the two belches are evidence of long-suspected black hole activity. Now that researchers have discovered those belches, it helps them determine the pace of those processes. Astronomers saw gas jets dubbed "Fermi bubbles" that shine in the gamma-ray and X-ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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"These are the kinds of bubbles we see after a black hole feeding event", said CU postdoctoral fellow Scott Barrows.

Well, nearly nothing. As it turns out, supermassive black holes aren't always thorough when gobbling up star systems and solar debris. The Apache Point facility is owned by the Astrophysical Research Consortium, a group of 10 US research institutions that includes CU Boulder. It was also recently published in The Astrophysical Journal.

"Black holes are voracious eaters, but it turns out they don't have very good table manners", Julie Comerford, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, told the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington DC.

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