New images of a voracious black hole gobbling the leftovers of a small galaxy in Earth's neighborhood could help astronomers learn more about these mysterious phenomena, NASA said Thursday.
In a picture of galactic cannibalism, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped an image of a black hole at the center of the giant galaxy Centaurus A, just 10 million light years from Earth.The suspected black hole - the existence of these matter-sucking phenomena has not been absolutely confirmed - is shown feeding on the remnants of a smaller galaxy that collided with Centaurus A, astronomers said in a statement.
When the galaxies smashed together, the smaller galaxy merged with the larger one and the shock of the collision precipitated a flurry of star formation, the scientists said. Such collisions were common when the universe was young but rare now.
At the very heart of the merged galaxy, past the fuzzy disk of dust in which the new stars were forming, is what the experts believe is a black hole that is perhaps a billion times the mass of our sun.
Black holes are notoriously hard to confirm, because their intensely powerful gravitational fields are so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape their pull. In the night sky, Centaurus A is located near the "backbone" of the constellation Centaur.