Sculptor Galaxy Central Black Hole Naps After Consuming Gas Snack

Posted on June 13, 2013

Sculptor Galaxy NuStar Image


NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory caught the black hole at the central of the Sculptor galaxy consuming gas about a decade ago. New observations from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which sees higher-energy X-ray light, have found that the black hole is now asleep.

Bret Lehmer of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement, "Our results imply that the black hole went dormant in the past 10 years. Periodic observations with both Chandra and NuSTAR should tell us unambiguously if the black hole wakes up again. If this happens in the next few years, we hope to be watching."

The Sculptor galaxy is about 13 million light-years away from Earth. It is actively giving birth to new stars and is called a starburst galaxy. Sculptor's central black hole is about 5 million times the mass of our sun.

Ann Hornschemeier of Goddard, a co-author of a study about the black hole published in the Astrophysical Journal, says, "Black holes feed off surrounding accretion disks of material. When they run out of this fuel, they go dormant. NGC 253 is somewhat unusual because the giant black hole is asleep in the midst of tremendous star-forming activity all around it."

You can find a larger version of the above image here.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU