Scientist have spotted a black hole in a nearby galaxy that can let out one huge burp.
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers say they have discovered two arcs of X-ray emissions near a black hole, which they think are fossils “from two enormous blasts when the black hole expelled material outward into the galaxy.”
The fossils were seen in the Messier 51 galaxy system, which is a mere 26 million light years from Earth. OK–that’s actually pretty close to us when using galactic standards. It happened in a small galaxy in the process of merging with “The Whirlpool,” a larger galaxy, according to NASA.
So here’s where the burping comes in. “For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” Eric Schlegal of the University of Texas, San Antonio and study leader, explained in a NASA press release.
Schlegal also said that their observation “is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies,” NPR reports. And this illustrates that “black holes can create, not just destroy,” said co-author Marie Machacek of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The study’s scientists say the hot gas is moving the cooler hydrogen gas forward, kind of like a snowplow. This is an example of a supermassive black hole “affecting its host galaxy in a phenomenon known as feedback,” the NASA release stated.
Schlegal said in an email that the feedback can aid in regulating a black hole’s size by “blowing gas back out through the central portion.” If it didn’t, the black hole that continues to eat and pick up matter “could become large enough to engulf a galaxy,” he said.
As the “snowplow” takes away material, Schlegal says “the expanding gas could also trigger star formation outside of the central volume,” according to NPR.
The Washington Post reports that the black hole’s burps are most likely from a “meal” that occurred millions of years ago:
“The researchers spotted twin arcs of X-ray emissions from the black hole in question, which they believe to be the aftereffects of a big meal that happened millions of years ago (the jets, they say, would have taken 1 million to 6 million years to reach their current positions).”
And it is not common to see those gassy burps from black holes. According to the team, who presented the study at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the burp happened millions of years ago. The inner wave of gas took 3 million years to reach its position now and the outer twice as much, according to CNN.