Scientists have discovered a supermassive black hole burping gas near Earth using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Astronomers found this outburst in a 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.” Both of these galaxies are in the Messier 51 galaxy system (M51), located about 26 million light years from Earth.
“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” said Eric Schlegel of The University of Texas in San Antonio, who led the study. “Our observation is important because this behavior 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.”
Researchers believe that 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.
ABOVE IMAGE: The main panel of the image shows M51 in visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The box at the top of the image outlines the field of view by Chandra in the latest study, which focuses on the smaller component of M51, NGC 5195. The inset to the right shows the details of the Chandra data (blue) of this region. Researchers found a pair of arcs in X-ray emission close to the center of the galaxy, which they interpret as two outbursts from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. Astronomers estimate 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.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI