Scientists solve the mystery of a celestial object hiccupping

Astronomers discovered a mysterious burst of bright light in 2020 that was tracked 848 million light-years away, and now that mystery has been solved.

1 minute & 51 seconds read time

Astronomers detected a burst of bright light 848 million light years away from Earth back in December 2020, and now a new study has detailed why this unusual behavior took place.

A computer simulation of a black hole orbiting a supermassive black hole

The team traced the burst of bright light to a region of space with a supermassive black hole at its center, and since then the black hole has been relatively quiet. But during the time of activity the energy released from this region of space strangely dipped every 8.5 days before it completely settled down to near-zero activity. These releases of energy are similar to having celestial hiccups.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances details the use of the X-ray telescope NICER (the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), which is aboard the International Space Station. The researchers gathered four months of data on the region of space, and after analyzing the data the team landed on the conclusion that an object was passing in front of the supermassive black hole, causing the dips in energy every 8.5 days.

Scientists solve the mystery of a celestial object hiccupping 262612

So, what was this object? The team suggests that a smaller black hole is orbiting the larger black hole, and after running simulations with the acquired data the theory lined up with the results. More specifically, the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center is estimated to have a mass of 50 million suns, while the smaller black hole is estimated to be between 100 and 10,000 solar masses.

In December 2020, a nearby star got caught in the gravitation pull of the supermassive black hole and was completely destroyed, with the star's remains forming an accretion disk around the larger black hole. The death of a star via a black hole and the forming of an accretion disk can cause a powerful emission of X-rays and visible light. These flares of light are what astronomers believe they detected, and when the smaller black hole passed through the accretion disk, flare-ups occurred, explaining the 8.5-day intervals.

Luckily, this outgassing was pointed directly at telescopes here on Earth, and while astronomers have previously detected "David and Goliath" black hole systems in the past, this one is a "different beast" as it doesn't fit anything astronomers have previously known about these systems. The team wrote that they are seeing evidence of objects going in and through the disk at different angles, which challenges tradtional theories about how these systems work. Lastly, the team believes the universe is littered with these types of systems.

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Jak joined the TweakTown team in 2017 and has since reviewed 100s of new tech products and kept us informed daily on the latest science, space, and artificial intelligence news. Jak's love for science, space, and technology, and, more specifically, PC gaming, began at 10 years old. It was the day his dad showed him how to play Age of Empires on an old Compaq PC. Ever since that day, Jak fell in love with games and the progression of the technology industry in all its forms. Instead of typical FPS, Jak holds a very special spot in his heart for RTS games.

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