Awakening of a Black Hole: Millions of Times Larger than the Sun

At the center of the Milky Way, there is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*, with a mass approximately four million times that of our Sun. Described by some scientists as a gentle giant due to its calmness, it could, however, become a monster one day.

On Tuesday, researchers announced observing a significant flare at the core of another galaxy, apparently resulting from the awakening of a supermassive black hole from its dormant state, beginning to feed on nearby material. This is the first time such an awakening has been observed in real-time, according to Reuters.

Ground-based and orbital telescopes were used to track events at the core of a galaxy named SDSS J1355+0728, located about 360 million light-years from Earth in the Virgo constellation. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, about 9.5 trillion kilometers.

Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects whose gravitational pull is so intense that even light cannot escape. Their size ranges from the mass of a single star to giant black holes found at the centers of many galaxies, being millions or even billions of times more massive. The supermassive black hole in galaxy SDSS J1355+0728 has a mass about a million times that of the Sun.

The environment around these supermassive black holes can be exceptionally violent, tearing apart stars and consuming any other matter drawn by their gravity. Researchers observed a rotating disk of scattered material forming around the supermassive black hole in SDSS J1355+0728, with some of this material being consumed. This disk, known as an accretion disk, radiates energy at extremely high temperatures, sometimes outshining an entire galaxy.

The luminous and compact region powered by a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy is called an “active galactic nucleus.”

Paola Sánchez Sáez, an astrophysicist at the European Southern Observatory in Germany and the lead author of the study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, stated: “These nuclei emit large amounts of energy in various wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays. They are among the brightest objects in the universe.”

She added, “Studying active galactic nuclei is vital for understanding galaxy evolution and the physics of supermassive black holes.”

The galaxy SDSS J1355+0728 has a diameter of about 52,000 light-years and a mass equivalent to about 10 billion times that of the Sun. It has been observed for decades before sudden changes were detected in 2019, with an increase in its core’s brightness.

Lorena Hernández García, an astrophysicist at the University of Valparaíso in Chile and co-author of the study, specified that supermassive black holes sometimes emit powerful jets of energetic particles into space, but such jets were not observed in this case.

What might have awakened this supermassive black hole?

Paola Sánchez responded, “Currently, we do not know.”

Hernández added, “It could be a natural process of the galaxy. We know that galaxies go through different phases of activity and inactivity throughout their lives. Something could trigger this activity, such as a star falling into the black hole.”

The researchers indicate that if observations reveal something other than the beginning of an active galactic nucleus, it could be an astrophysical phenomenon never before observed.

Sagittarius A*, located about 26,000 light-years from Earth, could it suddenly come to life?

Hernández concluded, “The same process could eventually happen to Sagittarius A*, which is currently dormant. However, we are not in danger, and maybe if it did, we wouldn’t notice it as we are very far from the center.”

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button
Verified by MonsterInsights