The next time your mom tells you not to burp at the table, tell her black holes do it, too.
This week, NASA announced that it had found a very rude black hole in a galaxy 26 million light-years from Earth — a black hole that eats way too fast and then burps up its food.
The supermassive black hole is centered in NGC 5195, a galaxy that is in the process of merging with another galaxy called NGC 5194. Like all major mergers, this one comes with some problems.
All black holes "eat" stars, gas and matter — that's what they do. However, this is the first time cosmologists have seen firsthand evidence of a black hole "burping" after its meal; that is, taking in a ton of gas and then expelling some back out.
"Our observation is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies," said Eric Schlegel of the University of Texas in San Antonio, who led the study, in a press release. "It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events."
Those observations were made using NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, where scientists can observe X-ray activity in space. In this case, they actually detected two arcs of emission — two places where the black hole has "burped" its food outward. In the human world, when you "burp" out of two parts of your body, we call it something else. However, this is a family website.
Those arcs, which are essentially space fossils, are evidence of black holes giving "feedback" to their galaxy, and affecting the chemical makeup of the environment around them, which would contribute to the trajectory of galaxies and worlds.
"This shows that black holes can create, not just destroy," said co-author Marie Machacek of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The findings were presented at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Fla. and have been submitted in a paper to The Astrophysical Journal. They have not yet been published.