A giant black hole located at the center of a galaxy 800 million light-years from Earth has been caught on camera letting out not one, but two massive "burps" of highly charged particles.
It is the first time astronomers have viewed the phenomenon twice in the same black hole.
Images released Thursday and credited to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory were presented at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in National Harbor, Md., outside Washington, D.C.
"Black holes are voracious eaters, but it also turns out they don't have very good table manners," Julie Comerford, an astronomer at the University of Colorado Boulder, said during a news conference Thursday, according to Space.com. "We know a lot of examples of black holes with single burps emanating out, but we discovered a galaxy with a supermassive black hole that has not one, but two burps."
The supermassive black hole is at the center of a galaxy known as SDSS J1354+1327, or colloquially as simply J1354. Astronomers have found evidence of such black holes at the heart of most large galaxies, including our own Milky Way.
"The two-course meal for the black hole comes from a companion galaxy that collided with J1354 in the past. This collision produced a stream of stars and gas that links J1354 and the other galaxy. The separate outbursts from the black hole are caused by different clumps from this stream being consumed by the supermassive black hole," NASA writes.
According to the Chandra X-ray Observatory's website:
"The optical data indicate that, in the past, the supermassive black hole appears to have consumed, or accreted, large amounts of gas while blasting off an outflow of high-energy particles. The outflow eventually switched off then turned back on about 100,000 years later. This is strong evidence that accreting black holes can switch their power output off and on again over timescales that are short compared to the 13.8 billion-year age of the Universe.
" 'We are seeing this object feast, burp and nap, and then feast and burp once again, which theory had predicted,' said Julie Comerford ... who led the study. 'Fortunately, we happened to observe this galaxy at a time when we could clearly see evidence for both events.' "
Details of the discovery appeared in The Astrophysical Journal.