An intensely bright X-ray beacon shining in the Andromeda galaxy is actually a signpost for a hungry black hole that is gobbling up matter at a furious pace, new studies reveal.
NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory first discovered the so-called ultraluminous X-ray source (ULX) in late 2009 in the Andromeda galaxy, which is located about 2.5 million light-years away from our own Milky Way galaxy.
Now, an international team of scientists say that this extremely bright object is the result of a stellar black hole gorging on large amounts of matter. These black holes rapidly guzzle their surrounding gas and dust to form an accretion disk that heats up and unleashes X-ray jets.
This ULX is the first one spotted in the spiral Andromeda galaxy, and is also the closest ULX ever seen, the researchers said.
Stellar black holes are formed by the collapse of massive stars and typically contain up to 10 or 20 times the mass of the sun. According to the new studies, the black hole causing the ULX object in Andromeda is at least 13 times more massive than our sun and formed after a massive star ended its life in a spectacular supernova explosion.
"ULX sources are still pretty exotic," study leader Matt Middleton, a research associate in the Department of Physics at Durham University in the U.K., said in a statement. "But our work shows that at least some are linked to the normal black holes left behind after the death of massive stars, objects that are found throughout the universe, and the way that they drag in surrounding material. The ULX in Andromeda flared up because of the black hole's voracious appetite for new material."