Black Hole Consumes Gas Faster Than Astronomers Thought Was Possible

Posted on October 13, 2014

P13 black hole eating its donor star

A black hole has been found to be consuming gas much faster than astronomers thought was possible. The black hole, named P13, is located in the galaxy NGC7793. NGC7793 is located about 12 million light years from Earth.

The image above is an artist's rendering of P13. P13 is devouring gas at a speed ten times greater than astronomers thought black holes could eat gas. Astronomers estimate it is consuming a mass equivalent of 100 billion billion hot dogs every minute. The astronomers studying the black hole say they now think there is not actually a strict limit to how much a black hole can consume.

P13 was initially assumed to be bigger than it is because it is more luminous than other black holes. Gas gets very hot and bright as it falls towards a black hole and P13 is swallowing a lot of gas.

Dr. Roberto Soria, an astronomer with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, says in a statement, "It was generally believed the maximum speed at which a black hole could swallow gas and produce light was tightly determined by its size. So it made sense to assume that P13 was bigger than the ordinary, less bright black holes we see in our own galaxy, the Milky Way."

When the astronomers measured the mass of P13 they were surprised to find that it was actually on the small side as far as black holes go. P13 rotates around a supergiant donor star that has a mass twenty times that of our Sun. The astronomers were able to use the donor star to measure the mass of the black hole. They determined the black hole has a mass 15 times the mass of our Sun.

Dr. Soria compares P13 to Takeru Kobayashi, a hot dog eating champion from Japan who is not a large man. He weighs about 128 pounds yet consistently wins eating competitions.

Dr. Soria says, "As hotdog-eating legend Takeru Kobayashi famously showed us, size does not always matter in the world of competitive eating and even small black holes can sometimes eat gas at an exceptional rate."

Dr. Soria says P13 is in a select group of black holes known as ultraluminous X-ray sources. He says they are the "champions of competitive gas eating" in the Universe. They can swallow their donor star in under one million years.

Image: Tom Russell (ICRAR) using software created by Rob Hynes (Louisiana State University)

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