Astronomers have observed, in a distant galaxy, a black hole (“woke up” from a period of extended inactivity) swallowed a gigantic celestial body in the neighborhood. Experts say that a similar event could happening soon in our own galaxy.
This event took place in the galaxy NGC 4845 located 47 million light-years away from Earth. It was being caught by the INTEGRAL Space Observatory (European Space Agency).
“It was a totally unexpected observation since this galaxy had been quiet for at least 20-30 years”, said Marek Nikolajuk – University of Bialystok, Poland, the author of the work published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Astronomers study another galaxy when the observed a strong X-ray emission coming from a different position in the field of survey’s instrument. Subsequent studies confirmed that it was NGC 4845, a galaxy that had not been previously detected in high-energy radiation.
The emission of radiation reached its maximum in January 2011 and then it decreased in intensity throughout the year.
Analyzing the characteristics of the phenomenon, astronomers establish that the emissions came from a cloud of matter around the black hole in the galaxy. The black hole swallowed a spatial object with a mass of 14 to 30 times bigger than Jupiter. It may have been either a brown dwarf (an substelarobject) or a gas giant – a giant planet.
The black hole in the center of the galaxy NGC 4845 have an estimated mass of about 300,000 bigger than the Sun.
“This is the first time when we see the disintegration of an substelar object by a black hole”, said another author Roland Walter (Observatory of Geneva,Switzerland).
“We believe that only the external layers – which constituted approx. 10% of the mass of the object – was swallowed by the black hole. The denser nucleus (remained from the object) continues to orbit around it”.
The astronomers believe that the Galaxy NGC 4845’s event could be followed by a similar one that it is expected to take place soon and will involve the black hole from the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. In the zone (Mliky way center), they aren’t brown dwarfs or planets, just a compact cloud of gas with a mass of a few times larger than Earth. The gas was observed draining into spiraling toward the black hole…. so maybe it will swallow it soon.
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