Nobody panic, but a 'monster' dormant black hole has just woken up

In news that's kind of awesome but also kind of scary, the European Space Agency (ESA) has said that a "monster" black hole has become active again after being dormant for 26 years.

Scientists have observed the black hole in V404 Cygni, a binary system 8,000 light-years away, has started eating its neighbouring star creating a beautiful high-energy interstellar light show.

X-rays and gamma rays picked up the black hole feasting as it hoovers up material and light from the star. As it draws closer to the black hole, the light emissions from the star heat up and gather in a disc that shines brightly on wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum before spiralling into the matter-eating monster.

The Japanese and American space agencies first noticed the black hole's renewed activity last week. Astronomers around the world are thrilled with the chance to witness the rare out-bursting black hole.

The behaviour of this source is extraordinary at the moment, with repeated bright flashes of light on time scales shorter than an hour, something rarely seen in other black hole systems. In these moments, it becomes the brightest object in the X-ray sky – up to fifty times brighter than the Crab Nebula, normally one of the brightest sources in the high-energy sky.

  • Erik Kuulkers, Integral project scientist at the ESA
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