A team of astronomers have recently found that a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy has three “hot meals” a day, CGTN.com reported.
The study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature found that X-ray bursts repeat about every nine hours originating from the center of a galaxy called GSN 069, indicating that the black hole located there is consuming large amounts of material on a regular schedule.
The black hole, about 250 million light years from Earth, contains about 400,000 times the mass of the Sun and it is estimated to consume about four Moons’ worth of material about three times a day, the report said.
“This black hole is on a meal plan like we’ve never seen before,” said the paper’s first author Giovanni Miniutti from the European Space Agency’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.’”
The data were obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescope.
The astronomers have tracked multiple periodic outbursts for at least 54 days, witnessing the flow of matter into the black hole repeatedly speeding up and slowing down. During the outbursts, the X-ray emission becomes about 20 times brighter than during the quiet times, according to the study.
The origin of the X-ray emission is usually a star that the black hole has partially or completely torn apart and is slowly consuming bit by bit, but the consumption of gas from a disrupted star has never been observed to come with repetitive X-ray bursts, the report said.
“By combining data from these two X-ray observatories, we have tracked these periodic outbursts for at least 54 days,” Richard Saxton, co-author of the study from ESA’s Astronomy Center in Spain, said in the statement. “This gives us a unique opportunity to witness the flow of matter into a supermassive black hole repeatedly speeding up and slowing down.”
The astronomers gave two possible explanations. One is that the amount of energy in the disk builds up until it becomes unstable and then the matter rapidly falls into the black hole. The cycle would repeat.
Another theory is that the disk and a secondary body orbiting the black hole, perhaps the remnant of the partially disrupted star, interact with each other.
According to the late, great theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, in the context of black holes, the event horizon is a hypothetical interface in spacetime separating a black hole from the rest of the universe and events beyond this point cannot affect an outside observer.
As reported in the Business Insider, it’s the boundary at which gravitational acceleration becomes so great, that it would make it impossible for any object to escape — even if a ray of light were to cross, it would never leave again.
Every object in the universe carries information about its structure and shape that can’t just “dissolve,” but this is theoretically what would happen if an object were to go into a black hole. In general relativity, you simply can’t escape a black hole … once you’re in, there’s no going back.