Burp! goes the supermassive black hole

Misty Bentz

Burp! goes the supermassive black hole

A supermassive black hole has managed to cast a curious shadow upon the not-too-distant galaxy in which it resides. The typical large galaxy contains a jumbo black hole, and the one at the center of galaxy NGC 5548 (shown) weighs 40 million times more than the sun. Hot gas circling the monster shines so brightly that astronomers classify NGC 5548 as a Seyfert, a type of galaxy with a particularly brilliant nucleus. However, in 2013, that nucleus dimmed dramatically when gas raced away from the hot disk at up to 5000 kilometers a second and blocked most of its lowest energy x-rays, as observers report online today in Science. Because the galaxy lies only 250 million light-years from Earth, the finding may yield insight into the behavior of quasars, far more distant—and powerful—brilliant galactic nuclei that also contain big black holes.

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