Black hole enjoys fantastically long stellar feast

Black holes are speed eaters, usually scarfing down a star in less than a year. But a supermassive black hole in a galaxy about 1.8 billion light-years away has been gorging on a single star for more than 10 years – longer than any other observed supermassive black hole meal.

Astronomers detected the extraordinary feast in X-ray images from ESA’s XMM-Newton spacecraft and NASA’s Chandra and Swift satellites. From 2005 to 2008, X-rays from the region grew 100 times brighter — probably as the black hole began devouring the star — and the glow has been largely sustained ever since. The consumed star may be a hefty one with 10 times the mass of the sun, which could explain the extended meal. The X-ray flare probably won’t dim significantly for several years, the astronomers report online February 6 in Nature Astronomy.

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