Supermassive black hole produces post-dinner burp

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory discovers violent outbursts from one of Earth’s closest supermassive black holes after ‘eating’ stars and gas. 

6th January 2016
Galaxy NGC 5195 (© X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

Galaxy NGC 5195 (© X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

Galaxy NGC 5195 (© X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

Own up, we’ve all had a sneaky belch after we’ve tucked into a suitably sizable lunch, but that’s nothing compared to what NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory has discovered. Try sizing up your ‘emissions’ to that of a supermassive black hole after dining on stars and galactic gasses!

Astronomers from The University of Texas in San Antonio have found that violent outbursts are spewing out of a supermassive black hole centred around the small galaxy NGC 5195, which is currently merging with a larger spiral galaxy, commonly known as the Whirlpool. All this is happening at a relatively close distance to Earth (still 26 million light years away though, so don’t jump in the panic room just yet).

This disgorging of space matter is having a knock on effect to the local surroundings says Eric Schlegel, who led the study.

"Just as powerful storms here on Earth impact their environments, so too do the ones we see out in space. This black hole is blasting hot gas and particles into its surroundings that must play an important role in the evolution of the galaxy."

Schlegal and his team discovered two arcs of X-ray emissions close to the centre of the supermassive black hole, which, according to study co-author Christine Jones represent “artefacts from two enormous gusts when the black hole expelled material outward into the galaxy."

Beyond these arcs lie regions of hydrogen emissions, thrown out from the centre of the galaxy, which, and here’s the cool bit, could sweep together to begin the formation of new stars.

“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as 'eating' stars and gas.  Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” says Schlegel.

So just think that the next time some one burps at the dinner table, somewhere in the Universe a black hole is doing the same thing, but instead of creating awkward silences (or chuckles depending on how many children are around the table), they are forming new stars.

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