sports 3 days ago

Black holes observed burping, feasting, napping by CU Boulder researchers

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo. — Elizabeth Hernandez Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

Jan. 12--Like new parents eagerly peering at their infant through a baby monitor, University of Colorado scientists have been ogling a supermassive black hole performing astronomical gastronomical feats of eating, belching and taking a snooze.

"We are seeing this object feast, burp and nap, and then feast, burp and nap once again, which theory had predicted," said CU Assistant Professor Julie Comerford, who led a new study uncovering these revolutionary burps. "Fortunately, we happened to observe this galaxy in a moment where we could clearly see evidence for both events."

Unlike a newborn, the black hole in question is estimated to be around 10 billion years old, and its "burping" -- blasts of bright light from gas the hole inhaled -- is something for the history books.

Astronomers have predicted supermassive black holes flicker on and off due to gas "feeding events," but the CU research is the strongest evidence of its kind illustrating black holes switching off and on over timescales that seem short when compared to the age of the universe -- 13.8 billion years old, CU scientists said.

The black hole didn't just burp once, but twice over the course of about 100,000 years.

"We got really lucky to see both burps," Comerford said. "They don't last forever. They fade away at some point."

Supermassive black holes are like your average black hole in that they're both regions with such strong gravitational effects that nothing, including light, can escape. The supermassive marvels are millions of times heavier than Earth's sun and are believed to be at the heart of every galaxy.

The galaxy CU had its eye on, called SDSS J1354+1327, or an endearing "J1354" for short, is about 800 million light-years from Earth.

"That means we're seeing this galaxy as it was 800 million years ago," Comerford said. "I have no idea what the galaxy is doing right now."

For comparison, one light-year is approximately 6 trillion miles.

To catch this astronomical belching in progress, the CU team used observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, along with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

The researchers saw remnant emission extending 30,000 light-years south of the center of the galaxy, indicating the first black hole feast happened around one billion years ago. Farther north, the team spotted remnants closer to the black hole, meaning a more recent burp had occurred.

"We didn't even hope or dream to find something like this," Comerford said. "It was unexpected. This is just the beginning of finding new things."

Using their findings, Comerford and her team are moving forward with a better idea of what galaxies to look for to find "double burps."

A contributing factor to the gassy galaxy: a companion galaxy linked to J1354 by streams of stars and gas from a collision between the two of them. Comerford and her crew figured out clumps of material from the companion galaxy swirled into the mouth of J1354.

She cleared up one terminology fact: While "burp" is a fine analogy for understanding the matter, scientists would normally opt for the terms "outburst" or "outflow."

"We don't normally go around talking about burps left and right," Comerford said.

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, hernandeze@dailycamera.com

___

(c)2018 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices