Supermassive black hole is eating meals worth four Moons thrice a day

Supermassive black hole in the GSN 069 galaxy captured by the Chandra X-Ray ObservatoryNASA
  • Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have spotted a supermassive blackhole on a regular schedule.
  • The black hole gobbles up material worth four Moons, not once, but thrice a day.
  • It’s 400,000 times the mass of the Sun and shines 20 times brighter when it’s feeding.
A supermassive black hole, 250 million light years from Earth is eating about four Moons’ worth of material — not once — but thrice in a day.

Like clockwork, the supermassive black hole flares up every nine hours.This is the first time that scientists have caught a black holes this big, which is 400,000 times the mass of the Sun, on a regular feeding schedule.

In fact, the phenomenon was so unprecedented that scientists had to coin a new phrase for it — X-Ray Quasi-Periodic Eruptions.

"This black hole is on a meal plan like we’ve never seen before," said Giovanni Miniutti, the lead author of the study published in Nature.

Brighter, hotter and hungrier

The team conducting the study used the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s ( NASA) Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s ESA XMM-Newton to find X-ray bursts repeating themselves in the center of the GSN 069 galaxy.

"By combining data from these two X-ray observatories, we have tracked these periodic outbursts for at least 54 days" said Richard Saxton, co-author of the study.

And, it wasn’t just a flicker of light. The X-ray emissions from the super massive blackhole were 20 times brighter when it was swallowing up material, than when it’s quiet.

The material going into the black hole also gets hotter whenever it’s being fed on. Hotter by more than 83,000 degrees Celsius.

The material itself, is a bit of a mystery. No one knows where it came from. The long standing mystery needs an answer in order for scientists to unravel the black hole’s behaviour.

But, why is the black hole so hungry?

"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.

Black holes have been known to consume stars that have been torn apart but the observations have never been accompanied by repetitive X-ray bursts.

The other theory is that there is so much energy going into the black hole that its disk becomes unstable. Due to the instability, the surrounding matter starts to fall in at an increasing rate resulting in X-ray blasts that can be observed from Earth.

Large increases and decreases in a black hole’s appetite have been seen before, but they normally ever repeat over the course of months or years.

See also:
The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy suddenly lit up brighter than scientists had ever seen, and nobody knows why

ISRO, NASA just spotted a black hole spinning so fast that it could be making space itself rotate

Hubble has found a black hole disk that should be non-existent
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