Researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA) recently announced that a formerly drowsy black hole shows clear signs that it has woken up as it started to feast on the matter of a neighboring companion star.
ESA scientists explained that the V404 Cygni suddenly started to emit high amounts of energy after a 26-year nap. Or at least that’s what gamma ray and X-ray instruments here on Earth show.
Scientists argue that the sudden blast of energy is the byproduct of the black hole’s feeding process. Supermassive black holes at the core of galaxies engulf large amounts of matter and release back even higher amounts of energy and radiation.
And the more active a black hole is the brighter it becomes to radiation-detecting instruments.
However, ESA researchers disclosed that the black hole was not dormant. But in the meantime, its gravitation pulled heaps of matter from a nearby star and formed a disc around it. Additionally, as the disk became increasingly hotter it looked brighter to terrestrial instruments. Finally, parts of the disk got sucked into the black hole, while parts were released back as particle jets.
According to astronomers, the black hole is so bright because it had hit a “tipping point that dramatically changes the black hole’s feeding routine for a short period.” And the process repeats itself every two to three decades.
Its “feeding routine” is closely examined by researchers worldwide along with ESA’s Integral space satellite, which can detect gamma ray emissions.
Erik Kuulkers, researcher at the Integral project said that the black hole’s current behavior with consecutive bright flashes of light emitted nearly every hour is a rare cosmic show that few other black holes can display.
Mr. Kuulkers also said that V404 Cygni is currently the brightest object X-ray instruments can detect on the visible sky. It is even 50 times brighter than the brightest source of X-ray energy – the Crab Nebula.
V404 Cygni resides in the constellation Cygnus (translated the Swan) and was first detected in 1989 by a Soviet space station and a Japanese satellite. But its activity had been recorded for more than 70 years.
The nearby star that the black hole currently cannibalizes is 12 times larger than our sun,
ESA astrophysicists said that since 1989, the black hole has been incredibly quiet. But they acknowledged that they didn’t have the fleet of space and ground telescopes they have today.
In the following months ESA team plans to closely analyze the black hole to learn more about the mechanism behind the sudden outburst of energy. In only one month, V404 Cygni morphed from a nearly invisible space object to the brightest object X-ray space telescope can detect.
Image Source: NASA