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Intergalactic Gas Cloud Dives In Center Of Galaxy, Feeds Supermassive Black Hole

First Posted: Jun 10, 2016 05:40 AM EDT

An intergalactic gas cloud was seen raining in on a supermassive black hole at the core of a giant galaxy that is one billion light years away from the Earth. The event was witnessed by a team of astronomers through Atacama Large Millimiter Array, of which the results were published in the journal Nature.  

The new intergalactic gas cloud observed by the ALMA is the first direct evidence that shows cold dense clouds could grow and dive into the center of a galaxy to feed its inner supermassive black hole. The recent discovery has also changed the views of the astronomers on how the supermassive black holes feed, through a process called "accretion."

Astronomers used to infer that supermassive black holes in the biggest galaxies fed on the slow and stable diet of hot ionised gas from the halo of the galaxy. In addition, the new observation also indicates that when intergalactic weather conditions are correct, black holes may also fill the chaotic shower of giant clouds of a very cold molecular gas.

Lead author and astronomer Grant Tremblay, along with his team, used ALMA to look closely into the mysteriously bright cluster of 50 galaxies known as the Abell 2597, wherein a massive elliptical galaxy can be found at its core, which is named as the Abell 2597 Brightest Cluster Galaxy. Covering the space between these galaxies is the hot ionised gas' diffused atmosphere, which was first observed through NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Inverse reported.

Additional information from the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array show that the intergalactic gas cloud discovered by ALMA is just about 300 light years away from the inner black hole, basically moving on the edge of being consumed, in terms of astronomical terms, Business Insider reported.

Although ALMA was only able to find three clouds of cold gas close to the black hole, the astronomers believe that there could be thousands more in the area, setting up the black hole for continuous shower that can drive its activity for a long period. Now, they plan to use ALMA to look for the "rainstorms' in other galaxies to find out if such cosmic weather is common as implied in the theory.

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