NASA has found that a black hole 236 million light-years away may have flipped over on its own.
The seemingly reversal of the cosmic object’s magnetic field led the team to detect a “rare and mysterious explosion” in the distant galaxy.
“Rapid changes in visible and ultraviolet light have been seen in several dozen similar galaxies,” said sibasish Laha, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
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But this is the first case where we’ve seen X-rays disappear completely while other wavelengths glow.
In March 2018, astronomers noticed that a galaxy called 1ES 1927 +654 had become about 100 times brighter, and further research revealed that the eruption began at the end of 2017. NASA’s three-telescope space observatory, the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, found that the galaxy’s emissions had increased 12-fold but were steadily decreasing. This pointed to a summit that had not been observed before. In June, high-energy emissions disappeared.
“It was very exciting to investigate the strange eruption event of this galaxy and try to understand the possible physical processes involved,” said study co-author José Acosta-Pulido of the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute (IAC).
At the center of most large galaxies are supermassive black holes with a mass millions or billions of times larger than the mass of the Sun. When matter falls into them, it flattens to become a stacking disc. The material is warming and emitting visible UV and X-ray radiation that can be detected by scientists.
Near the black hole, a cloud of extremely hot particles called corona produces higher-energy X-rays, the brightness of these emissions depends on how much material flows towards it.
“An earlier interpretation suggested that the explosion was triggered by a star that passed very close to the black hole and disintegrated, disrupting the flow of gas,” said study co-author Josefa Becerra González, also working at IAC.
We’re demonstrating that an event like this would be dampened faster than this explosion.
Astronomers believe the corona was created and maintained by the black hole’s magnetic field, so any magnetic change could affect X-ray properties.
According to Mitchell Begelman, professor in the department of astrophysics and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the study, “A magnetic reversal in which the North Pole turns south and the south pole turns north is the explanation that best fits the observations.” “The area initially weakens on the outer edges of the stacking disc; and UV leads to more warming and glare in the light.”
As the reversal continues, the magnetic field becomes too weak to support the corona before gradually strengthening with a new orientation. The reappearance of the X-rays four months later also indicates that the reversal is complete.
An article explaining the findings of the research led by Laha was accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.