Astronomers have discovered an “ultraluminous” black hole P13 in a remote galaxy, consuming a gas cloud belonging to a neighboring star about ten times (10x) faster than scientists previously believed was possible.
The Black Hole lies on the outskirts of the galaxy NGC7793 about 12 million light years from Earth and is ingesting a weight equivalent to 100 billion billion hot dogs every minute. The discovery was then published in the journal Nature.
The astronomers were so amazed by the speed at which the super famished Black Hole – P13 that was sucking up a weight that is equivalent to the mass of the moon every 3 weeks or the mass of Earth every 4 years.
P13’s “donor” is no other than, a blue supergiant star about 20 times heavier than our Sun.
It was generally believed the maximum speed at which a black hole could swallow gas and produce light was tightly determined by its size. So, it made sense to assume that P13 was bigger than the ordinary, less bright black holes we see in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, ” Dr Roberto Soria, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research astronomer, said in a press-release.
However, the research conducted by Soria, who works at ICRAR’s Curtin University in Australia, and his colleagues from the University of Strasbourg, revealed that P13 – being at least a million times brighter than the Sun – was actually quite small. It was only then that they realised just how much material it was consuming.
According to Dr Soria,
The black hole must be less than 15 times the mass of our Sun. There’s not really a strict limit like we thought, black holes can actually consume more gas and produce more light.”
He said that the scientists saw that one side of the donor star was always brighter than the other because it was illuminated by X-rays coming from near the black hole, so the star appeared brighter or fainter as it went around P13.
This allowed us to measure the time it takes for the black hole and the donor star to rotate around each other, which is 64 days, and to model the velocity of the two objects and the shape of the orbit,” Dr Soria said.
Dr Soria said P13 is a member of a select group of black holes known as ultraluminous X-ray sources.
These are the champions of competitive gas eating in the Universe, capable of swallowing their donor star in less than a million years, which is a very short time on cosmic scales,” he said.
Black holes have long been a major source of interest of scientists – an inspiration for science fiction writers.