Scientists Caught Distant Supermassive Black Hole Burping

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Just like normal black holes, they are regions of space-time with gravitational effects so strong that even electromagnetic radiation such as light can not escape from inside of them.

Julie Comerford, an astronomer at the University of Colorado Boulder, has led a team of scientists in analyzing this particular black hole and its two burps.

The Hubble telescope then picked up clouds of blue-green gas emerging from the black hole from a previous burp. While these two events are thought to have happened some 100,000 years apart, that's actually an incredibly short period of time when we're talking about black hole activity. While even light can not escape the pull of one of these gravity wells, blacks holes do, very occasionally, "burp" back out chunks of half-consumed gas.

A paper on the subject was published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The black hole in question, known as J1354, is situated about 800 million light years from Earth and was studied using data captured by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory, the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Apache Point Observatory.

They tend to occur after events where the black hole has engulfed a large amount of matter, which some scientists call a "meal".

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The explanation for these gas-feeding events lies in a companion galaxy, which had previously collided with J1354. The team concluded that material from the companion galaxy swirled into the center of J1354 and then was eaten by the supermassive black hole.

Ms Comerford explained: "Theory predicted that black holes should flicker on and off very quickly and this galaxy's evidence of black holes does flicker on timescales of 100,000 years - which is long in human timescales, but in cosmological timescales is very fast".

Supermassive black holes have masses greater than one million suns combined and would fit inside a ball with a diameter about the size of the solar system.

Scientists presented their research regarding the supermassive black hole burping at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Washington, DC.

"This galaxy really caught us off guard", said Rebecca Nevin, a study co-author and doctoral student at CU Boulder. Now that researchers have discovered those belches, it helps them determine the pace of those processes. Astronomers saw gas jets dubbed "Fermi bubbles" that shine in the gamma-ray and X-ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Dr Comerford said that the black hole was going through a cycle of feasting, belching and napping, before starting again.