A monster black hole sitting at a distance of 1.23 billion light years from us appears to be feeding on a cold cloudy gas rain. That is unusual because what is usual is that a supermassive black hole, or just a black hole is usually surrounded by hot gasses. This unusual phenomenon is about to shed some light on how black holes grow.
Scientists were observing a nearby galaxy known as Abell 2597. It is a cluster galaxy comprising of 50 galaxies. It is also the brightest known cluster galaxy, at the heart of which sits a monster black hole which has a mass of 300 million times the mass of our own Sun. As the Abell 2597 chows down on the cold gas, scientists are actually observing the phenomenon as it unfolds.
What the scientists are observing is that intergalactic gas is literally pouring down on the supermassive black hole. The study has been published in the journal Nature. This unusual observation will change the understanding of the astrophysicists about how the black holes grow.
Grant Tremblay, an astronomer, who also co-authored the study published in Nature stated that this event was actually a theoretical prediction – a major one in the past few years. Abell 2597, says Tremblay, is the first observational evidence of a supermassive black hole feeding on cold gas.
The observation was spotted by an international team of astronomers using ALMA telescope. The astronomers observed that gigantic clouds of cold gas were rushing towards the black hole at a speed of 671,000 miles an hour. These gas clouds are possibly dozens of light years across and have masses anywhere between 100,000 times to 1,000,000 times the mass of our Sun. Scientists say that these clouds are possibly spread out within several hundred light years from the central black hole of Abell 2597. The study that was published in Nature stated that three such clouds were detected.
Since the intergalactic space between the galaxy cluster is filled with hot gas, given the perfect conditions (which do exist in Abell 2597), that gas can very rapidly cool down as it falls towards the galactic center (at the center of Abell 2597 sits a massive galaxy which spans over 600,000 light years across and is also the host to a monster black hole, which has a mass equivalent to the mass of 300 million suns) and in the process, cast shadows which can detected on the light that comes from the black hole.
According to Tremblay, “This very, very hot gas can quickly cool, condense, and precipitate in much the same way that warm, humid air in Earth’s atmosphere can spawn rain clouds and precipitation. The newly condensed clouds then rain in on the galaxy, fueling star formation and feeding its supermassive black hole.”
Tremblay also says that if the cold gas rain falls straight into the black hole, the monster black hole may accumulate several solar masses within a single year. However, if the cloudy rain starts spiraling into the black hole instead of falling straight into it, the growth of the black hole will be slow.