This week scientists have described in detail two different studies on black holes, one focused on the black hole in the center of our galaxy, another in the center of a galaxy millions of light-years away. Although they are far apart, these two black holes have something in common: they are both hungry, as evidenced by their unusual consumption habits. Researchers with UCLA say that the black hole in the center of our galaxy has a "big feast" unlike anything ever seen before.
The first of the two reports comes from UCLA, where researchers have studied the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. According to astronomers, this black hole is the most hungry to observe in the last 24 years, and it currently feeds on dust and interstellar gas.
Usually, the scientists explain, this supermassive black hole has a relatively lean diet. This has changed, and scientists have observed several times this year that the point where there is no turning back outside the black hole has shone brightly. The increased activity may be due to a nearby star called S0-2 or a binary system called G2.
The second report is from NASA, which says that a black hole in the center of a distant galaxy called GSN 069 devours nearby matter at very high speeds. This is also a supermassive black hole that has been observed to consume about three times a day the amount of material equivalent to four of the earth's moon.
Expressed in numbers – those that are hard to fathom – this means that every time the supermassive black hole is eaten, approximately one million billion pounds of material gets into the black hole. ESA's Giovanni Miniutti says the diet is "as we've never seen it before," a "so unprecedented that we had to shape a new expression to describe it."
This term refers to quasi-periodic X-ray flares, first discovered in GSN 069 in December last year. The co-author of the study, Margherita Giustini, said: "We believe that the origin of X-rays is a star that the black hole has partially or completely torn and is slowly consuming bit by bit."