ASTROPHYSICISTS witnessed the rare event of a black hole awakening from its slumber to snack on a planet-sized object in a galaxy 47 million light years away, the University of Geneva said today.
The observation made using the European Space Agency’s INTEGRAL satellite project, revealed a black hole that had been slumbering for years chomping on a giant, low-mass object that had come too close.
Scientists at the Swiss university analyse the data collected by INTEGRAL, launched in 2002 to study gamma rays and throw light on events far from Earth’s galaxy.
They spotted a light flare coming from a black hole in the centre of the NGC 4845 galaxy, which has a mass more than 300,000 greater than the Sun and had been dormant for more than 30 years, the university said in a statement.
Matter-sucking black holes normally lurk dormant and undetected at the centre of galaxies, but can occasionally be tracked by the scraps left over from their stellar feasts.
This black hole had woken up and absorbed an object with a mass 15 times that of our own Jupiter — after taking three months to drag the snack from its trajectory. It managed to swallow 10 per cent of the object’s total mass, while the remainder stayed in orbit.
In a separate statement, the European Space Agency said the object was either a giant planet or a brown dwarf — a star that lacks sufficient mass to sustain a thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen and helium which makes other stars, like our sun, shine brightly.