Astronomers have recorded regular and frequent flares from the core of a distant galaxy, located 570 million light-years from the Sun. Their source may be a supermassive black hole.
Flashes in the center of the galaxy ESO 253-3 appear once every 114 days. In fact, these events occurred almost 600 million years ago, but only now the light from them reached the solar system and scientists were able to see them.
Astronomers have counted 17 flares over the past six years. The first one was observed on November 14, 2014. It was originally thought to be a supernova explosion. But in 2020, scientists conducted an analysis and found that the flares continue, and at regular intervals.
Based on these observations, they successfully predicted when subsequent outbursts would occur: May 17, September 6, and December 26. This prediction was later confirmed exactly.
The scientists concluded that the flares are emitted by a black hole that is 20 times larger than Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. By comparison, Sagittarius A covers 23.6 million kilometers and is about 4 million times the mass of the Sun.
Probably, the so-called tidal disintegration occurs: a star gets so close to a black hole that whole pieces start to break off from it. These fragments collide with an accretion disk of dust, gas and debris, and a bright flash occurs. Scientists have speculated that there is a massive star in the ESO 253-3 galaxy that periodically approaches the black hole and loses some of its matter, but then moves away from it again.