A team of astronomers from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) found data which indicated the black hole was consuming large amounts of heated up material about every nine hours. This is new behaviour from a supermassive black hole which had never been detected before by scientists. ESA’s Giovanni Miniutti said: “This black hole is on a meal plan like we’ve never seen before.”
The blackhole is located 250million light years away from Earth and contains about 400,000 times the mass of the Sun.
Researchers estimate the hungry black hole is consuming about four Moon’s worth of material about three times a day.
This is an equivalent to almost a million billion billion pounds going into the black hole per feeding.
Mr Miniutti said: “This behaviour is so unprecedented that we had to coin a new expression to describe it.”
The scientist, who is the first author of a Nature paper published this month, described the process as “X-ray Quasi-Periodic Eruptions”.
The monster black hole’s activity was first discovered by the ESA’s space X-ray observatory called XMM-Newton.
It observed large bursts coming from galaxy GSN 069.
It detected two bursts on December 24 in 2018 which Mr Miniutti and his colleagues then followed up a month later finding five more outbursts in GSN 069.
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Another co-author of the paper from the ESA, Margherita Giustini, said: “We think the origin of the X-ray emission is a star that the black hole has partially or completely torn apart and is slowly consuming bit by bit.”
Ms Giustini claimed the origin of the repeated bursts was “a completely different story” and needed further studying.
The authors suggest there are two possible explanations for the bursts.
One is energy builds up during consumption until it becomes unstable and matter rapidly falls into the black hole producing the bursts, the cycle is then repeated.
Another of the researchers’ theories is there may be an interaction between the matter being consumed and a secondary body orbiting the black hole, perhaps the remnants of a partially digested star.
New data from Chandra and XMM-Newton imply the size and duration of the black hole’s meals have decreased and the gap between them has increased.
Future observations of this will be crucial to see if the trend continues.
Supermassive black holes are usually larger than the one found on GSN 069, with masses of millions or even billions of suns.
The larger the black hole the slower their fluctuations in brightness will be.
Instead of erupting every nine hours like GSN 069, the should erupt every few months or years which likely explains why “quasi-periodic eruptions” have never been seen before.