A supermassive black hole seems to be waking up in the not-too-distant universe

By Jurassic JennJun 25, 2024 09:36 AMScience
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Black hole
Black hole. Source: www.sciencenews.org

SDSS1335+0728, a galaxy located 300 million light-years away from Earth, has become the center of attention for astronomers. Over the course of four years, they have witnessed a remarkable phenomenon—a supermassive black hole in SDSS1335+0728 transitioning from dormancy to activity. This real-time observation marks an unprecedented milestone, shedding light on the mechanisms behind active galactic nuclei (AGN). AGN are characterized by the voracious consumption of matter by supermassive black holes, resulting in intense luminosity that can be detected across the cosmos. This is prepared by SSP.

In December 2019, the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory first detected a significant brightening in optical wavelengths. Initially categorized as a standard AGN candidate, further investigation utilizing archival data spanning two decades revealed that SDSS1335+0728 had been previously devoid of any signs of activity.

Under certain circumstances, black holes can illuminate their surroundings through tidal disruption events, where they tear apart and consume stars. The fragmented stellar material forms a rotating disk around the black hole, generating intense radiation. However, these events are typically transient, lasting only a few days to months. In the case of SDSS1335+0728, researchers including astrophysicist Paula Sánchez Sáez from the European Southern Observatory were astounded by its sustained luminosity over several years.

Equipped with compelling data, the scientists were preparing to publish their findings when the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory observed the black hole beginning to emit X-rays in February. Subsequently, other observation facilities detected a surge in activity across various wavelengths.

Based on the available evidence, Sánchez Sáez affirms, "All the data we have in hand seems to tell us that we are observing the formation of an AGN for the first time." The exact nature of this phenomenon remains uncertain, although one hypothesis suggests the black hole may be consuming a smaller satellite galaxy that has merged with SDSS1335+0728. To unravel the mysteries behind this astronomical event, the team aims to conduct further investigations utilizing powerful tools such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and future facilities like the Extremely Large Telescope. These cutting-edge instruments will enable scientists to analyze the movement of gases around the black hole, providing valuable insights into the origin and growth of AGNs and supermassive black holes.

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