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The “double belching” of a black hole shows its behavior over time



Supermassive black holes reside in the center of most, if not all, massive (and possibly low mass) galaxies. They vary in size from millions to billions of solar masses, and can eat voraciously or not eat at all, depending on their environment. But one thing is clear: black holes do not have very good manners at the table, as confirmed by a team led by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder last week at the 231st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC

The team trapped a supermassive black hole in the SDSS galaxy J1354 + 1327 (or J1354, for short) with a history of "snacking" material in its vicinity, and then let out "burps" of energy as a result. Between meals, the black hole is relatively inactive. That period of latency lasted about 100,000 years, which is a flicker in the cosmological time scales, but certainly not for humans. The work, presented at the Washington, DC meeting by Julie Comerford of the University of Colorado and published on November 6 in The Astrophysical Journal identifies two separate belches, or exit events: an old belching on the edge of dissipation and an insinuation of a much more recent meal. It is the first time that two separate events are identified for a single galaxy.

Two separate events
J1354 is a galaxy identified in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey; It is about 800 million light years away. The astronomers obtained images of J1354 in X-rays and optical light using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Apache Point Observatory. By combining the data from these different images, they detected a large fuzzy "cone" of gas that extends 30,000 light years below the bulk of the galaxy (where the supermassive black hole is located). This gas is ionized, that is, its atoms have been stripped of their electrons, by a great burst of radiation from the supermassive black hole that occurred about 100,000 years ago.


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