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Scientists discover black hole devouring 3 meals per day

Sep 12, 2019, 7:50 am

NASA has found a black hole at the center of a galaxy called GSN 069 with the help of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton. The black hole is located 250 million light-years from Earth and is about 400,000 times the mass of the sun. The data obtained from both the observatories shows the black hole consuming a large amount of material on a regular basis.

The paper was published in the September 11, 2019 issue of the ‘Nature’ journal. This is a huge discovery for the space scientists as this phenomenon of consuming about four Moon’s worth of material about three times a day had never been seen in a supermassive black hole before. The scientists had to come up with a new term for this phenomenon, and Giovanni Miniutti from ESA’s Center for Astrobiology in Spain said that they have decided to call it “X-ray Quasi-Periodic Eruptions.

The international research team also used data from NASA’s Swift X-ray observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NRAO’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico, USA, CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array in Australia, and SARAO’s MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.

ESA’s XMM-Newton first observed this phenomenon back in 2018. The observations done by Chandra found three outbursts on February 14 in addition to the two outbursts found by XMM-Newton on December 24, 2018, and five more outbursts on January 16 and 17, 2019.

Over the course of 54 days’ worth of observation, the scientists have discovered that during the outbursts the X-ray emission becomes 20 times brighter than the quiet times, and the temperature of the gas falling into the black hole also rises. The observation may further shine a light on the origin of the hot gas.

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. 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. – Margherita Giustini from the ESA’s Center for Astrobiology

The authors have come up with two possible explanations for this unprecedented repetitive X-ray bursts. One is that the amount of energy in the disk builds up until it becomes unstable and matter rapidly falls into the black hole producing the bursts. Another is that there is an interaction between the disk and a secondary body orbiting the black hole.

The data obtained from Chandra and XMM-Newton show that there has been a decrease in the size and duration of the meals and the gap between the meals has increased.

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