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Black hole behaving strangely – 'This is a completely different beast'

Black hole behaving strangely – 'This is a completely different beast'

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A black hole 800 million light-years away is behaving strangely. He hiccups, emits clouds of gas, and overturns previous assumptions.

BOSTON — The fascination with black holes continues unabated. Thanks to their enormous gravitational force, these mysterious orbs attract everything that comes near them and allow nothing to escape – not even light. Therefore, it is not visible to the human eye. However, a research team was able to visualize the shadows of two black holes using special techniques and telescopes, and even revealed strong magnetic fields at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Now another research team has discovered a black hole with puzzling behavior. The object is located at the center of a galaxy, about 800 million light-years away, and showed unusual behavior that researchers call a “hiccup.” It would suddenly erupt and release clouds of gas every 8.5 days before calming down again. Such behavior was not known before. But what could be the reason?

A black hole 800 million light-years away is experiencing a “hiccup.” A research team has found the solution: It orbits a smaller black hole that is making its way through the accretion disk and releasing clouds of gas in the process. (Artist's impression) © José Luis Olivares, MIT

The black hole has a “hiccup” in its 8.5-day cycle

The research team published their results In the specialized magazine Advancement of science. The theory: A second, smaller black hole “buzzing” around the central supermassive black hole could be the cause of the regular explosions. Every 8.5 days, this smaller object ejects material from the accretion disk surrounding the large black hole.

What is a cumulative disk?

An accretion disk, a disk containing gas that orbits an object and carries matter toward the center, is a well-known phenomenon in astrophysics. In the context of a black hole, the matter in that disk is what the black hole “feeds” on.

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Not only black holes, but also stars can be surrounded by accretion disks. Planets can form in these disks over time.

This discovery turns the previous understanding of black hole accretion disks on its head. Until now, research has assumed that these disks are relatively homogeneous disks of gas orbiting the black hole. However, new research suggests that accretion disks likely contain other black holes or even entire stars.

A black hole behaves in a mysterious way

“We thought we knew a lot about black holes, but this shows us there are a lot more things they can do,” said Dheeraj Basham of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “We think there will be many more systems like this. “We just need to collect more data to find them,” the researcher explains in one notice.

The “Hiccup” black hole was first detected by the ASAS-SN Automated Telescope Network in December 2020, just as it was undergoing an explosion that made its host galaxy appear noticeably brighter. Basham encountered the galaxy and quickly noticed that the amount of energy released had a rhythm of 8.5 days. “I've been wracking my brain about what this means, because this pattern doesn't fit with anything we know about these systems,” Basham says.

The black hole appears to have torn apart a star and eaten it

To investigate the mysterious behavior of the black hole, Basham called in other experts. They found that the galaxy containing the black hole was relatively quiet before December 2020. That month, a third object – perhaps a star – must have come very close to the black hole. This was torn apart by the black hole's gravity, a phenomenon astronomers call “spaghetti.” Material from the torn star fell into the accretion disk and made it brighter.

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For four months, the black hole devoured the remains of the star, while the second, smaller black hole moved regularly across the accretion disk, causing the observed 8.5-day rhythm. The research team tested this theory with simulations and concluded that it must be a new type of David and Goliath system, a medium-sized black hole orbiting a supermassive black hole.

New research casts doubt on the simple gas accretion disk

“It's a completely different beast,” Basham said. “It doesn't fit with everything we know about these systems. We see evidence of objects entering and passing through the disk at different angles, which challenges the traditional picture of a simple gaseous disk around black holes. We think there are a large number of such systems,” Basham adds. (unpaid bill)

The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model to improve at her own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Find out more about our AI principles here.