One of the cooler phenomena that occur in outer space are black holes, and famous physicist Stephen Hawking would agree.
Black holes can result from the death of a star. It's ultimately thought of as a place where things can get pulled in by massive gravitational forces that are so powerful that nothing can escape. Although, recent research has indicated that perhaps that old idea of black holes isn't so true, and perhaps things can escape.
Nonetheless, a black hole has received some attention this month from the European Space Agency (ESA). In the V404 Cygni system of our Milky Way galaxy, a large black hole is showing activity after what astronomers are calling a long dormancy.
The black hole was seen radiating X-rays and gamma rays for the first time in 26 years on June 15th. This particular black hole works as an orbital system with a neighboring star, which is currently in the midst of being slowly devoured by the black hole. As they orbit each other, they sometimes brush against each other, causing these flare-ups.
"In this type of binary system, material flows from the star towards the black hole and gathers in a disc, where it is heated up, shining brightly at optical, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths before spiraling into the black hole." ESA reports.
When the black hole sucks in parts of light from its neighboring star, this is what lights it up and makes it visible to scientists. Being that it has been inactive for around 26 years, this means the black hole hasn't been spotted glowing as bright as it was this month since 1989, which is when the Japanese observed the black hole with an X-ray satellite.
ESA says that it was NASA's Burst Alert Telescope that first spotted the activity earlier this month.
"The community couldn't be more thrilled: many of us weren't yet professional astronomers back then, and the instruments and facilities available at the time can't compare with the fleet of space telescopes and the vast network of ground-based observatories we can use today," says Erik Kuulkers, a scientist that works closely with ESA. "It is definitely a 'once in a professional lifetime' opportunity."
Fortunately, the reawakened black hole is more than 8000 light years away, so it poses no threat to our solar system.
Still, these freaky things are indeed real and fascinating to observe and learn about.