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A new study provides a possible explanation of mysterious X-ray flares detected by Chandra over the period of several years. It suggests that there is a cloud around Sgr A* containing trillions of asteroids and comets, stripped from their parent stars. The flares occur when asteroids of six miles or larger in radius are consumed by the black hole. The panel on the left shows a very long Chandra observation of the region around the Sgr A*, while the three panels on the right are artist's impressions of the path that a doomed asteroid would take on its way to the black hole.
NASA—Corbis via Getty Images

Scientists studying a supermassive black hole around 800 million light-years from Earth say they caught it ‘belching’ — blasting out jets of bright light — after ingesting hot gas.

The team, led by University of Colorado Boulder researchers, was fortunate to catch the black hole in the act, as the action has rarely been seen before as a result of gas feeding. They also saw a remnant of a previous black hole belch, which occurred around 100,000 years before the second.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, along with observatories in Hawaii and New Mexico, were used to make the observation.

“Black holes are voracious eaters, but it also turns out they don’t have very good table manners,” said the study’s lead author, CU Boulder Assistant Professor Julie Comerford, during a news conference on Jan. 11, according to “We know a lot of examples of black holes with single burps emanating out, but we discovered a galaxy with a supermassive black hole that has not one but two burps.”

The team presented its rare findings in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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