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Astronomers discover first periodic erupting supermassive black hole

Astronomers observing a galaxy 570 million light years away have discovered that the periodic energetic flares that occur there every 114 days are not supernovae but eruptions from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, caused each time an orbiting star gets too close during its perihelion and has material stripped away from it.

ASASSN-14ko was first detected by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), a global network of 20 robotic telescopes headquartered at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. When Payne examined all the ASAS-SN data on the phenomenon, she noticed a series of 17 regularly spaced flares.

Based on this discovery, the astronomers predicted that the galaxy would experience another burst on May 17 of last year and coordinated ground- and space-based facilities to make observations. They have since successfully predicted and witnessed flares on September 7 and December 26.

Though the press release tries to sell itself by saying these flares were initially mistaken for supernovae, a close reading suggests the astronomers thought this for only a very short time. As soon as they took their first close look and noticed the regularly space events, they abandoned the supernovae idea immediately.

Most supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies are active, emitting large amounts of energy in bursts or in a steady stream. That is why astronomers label them Active Galactic Nuclei, or AGNs. This is the first to do so in a periodic manner.

That most are active illustrates the mystery of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star) is not active, even though it really should be.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

5 comments

  • Lee Stevenson

    It’s obviously a type III civilization venting excess energy on a regular schedule. I see no other viable explanation.

  • LocalFluff

    @Lee Stevenson
    That would indeed be the only *viable* explanation.

  • janyuary

    Why is it so rare?

  • mrsizer

    My guess at the rarity is that things rarely orbit black holes closely enough to get chunks ripped off them for very long. They are either torn apart or sucked in. Also note that “rarely observed” is not the same as “rare”. We’ve only seen a few neutron star collisions, yet everything heavier than iron was created by one.

  • janyuary

    mrsizer, thank you, that makes sense. And thanks for the savvy reminder that “rarely observed” is different than “rare.” I needed it. :^)

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