Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has spotted evidence for powerful blasts produced by a burping giant black hole. This is one of the nearest supermassive black holes to Earth that is currently undergoing such violent outbursts.
Astronomers found this outburst in the supermassive black hole centered in the small galaxy NGC 5195.
This companion galaxy is merging with a large spiral galaxy NGC 5194 also known as “The Whirlpool.”
For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as “eating” stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal.
“Our observation is important because this behaviour would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events,” explained Eric Schlegel from the University of Texas in San Antonio.
In the Chandra data, Schlegel and his colleagues detect two arcs of X-ray emission close to the centre of NGC 5195.
“We think these arcs represent fossils from two enormous blasts when the black hole expelled material outward into the galaxy,” added study co-author Christine Jones from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
This activity is likely to have had a big effect on the galactic landscape.
The astronomers think the outbursts of the supermassive black hole in NGC 5195 may have been triggered by the interaction of this smaller galaxy with its large spiral companion, causing gas to be funneled in towards the black hole.
The energy generated by this infalling matter would produce the outbursts.
The team estimates that it took about one to three million years for the inner arc to reach its current position, and three to six million years for the outer arc.
The results were presented at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida in the first week of January.