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Astronomers Observe Starving Supermassive Black Hole Returning Brilliant Galaxy to Shadows

Sep 17, 2016 04:00 AM EDT

The sky is providing knowledge to astronomers and scientists consistently. By observing the behavior of stars, mankind can arrive at a deeper, more detailed understanding the galaxy and the universe. Recently, astronomers witnessed how a starving black hole returns a brilliant galaxy into the shadows.

The European Space Observatory (ESO) announced that astronomers, with the help of the Very Large Telescope, NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, observed a rare changing behavior of a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy from Earth. From the looks of it, the supermassive black hole is starving and is no longer capable of making the environment around it shine.

Experts say that bright galaxies are powered by supermassive black holes. Because the black holes are located in their core, the galaxies appear extremely bright. The glowing property is attributed to hot materials falling into black holes, called accretion. The light differs from galaxy to galaxy and astronomers are capable of identifying classifying them depending on the type of light observed.

Typical galaxies change in about 10 years, however, the starving galaxy observed by ESO astronomers possesses a very rare attribute since it had showcased changes in only five years. Galaxy Markarian 1018 had changed its type twice now. Today, it has reverted back to its original type.

"We were stunned to see such a rare and dramatic change in Markarian 1018", Rebecca McElroy, lead author of the discovery paper and a Ph.D. student at the University of Sydney and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) said in a press release.

Astronomers were lucky because they were able to detect the fading of the galaxy's brightness early on enabling them to focus an observation towards the "fickle" nature of the supermassive black hole. Experts worked in collaboration with the data from ESA and NASA's telescopes to determine the process that's causing the changes in terms of brightness of Markarian 1018 galaxy. At first, the process was mystifying as scientists weren't able to identify the cause of the black hole's behavior. But after further analysis of telescope data, they were able to confirm that the supermassive black hole is dimming because it is lacking o starved of "accretion material."

"It's possible that this starvation is because the inflow of fuel is being disrupted", Rebecca McElroy said. "An intriguing possibility is that this could be due to interactions with a second supermassive black hole".

Today, astronomers and scientists are delving deeper into the mystery of galaxies that are capable of changing their classification such as Markarian 1018.


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