A Monster Black Hole in a Galaxy 236 Million Light-Years Away May Have Just Flipped Its North and South Poles

A Nasa team studying studying a galaxy named 1ES 1927+654 just documented some strange activity, which might be the result of changes in a monster black hole's magnetic field.

black hole flaring in the galaxy
Photo: NASA/Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet

A historic event just took place outside of our world—236 million light-years away, to be exact. Researchers have been studying a galaxy, formally known as 1ES 1927+654, over the last few months, ever since it stopped and then increased its X-ray emissions. "This event marks the first time we've seen X-rays dropping out completely while the other wavelengths brighten," Sibasish Laha, the study lead author and a research scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a NASA statement.

Right now, the team of scientists are trying to figure out if this explosion of X-ray emissions came from a supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy. If so, researchers will attempt to understand how the changes in these emissions impact the black hole's environment. The astrophysicists explain that galaxies, the Milky Way, included, have supermassive black holes at their core, which pull matter towards the center. Once enough matter is collected, a cloud of hot particles come together; this is called a corona. The team noted in their new study that they believe the black hole's magnetic field is responsible for these corona changes; it's likely, they explain, that the ceased flow of X-rays was a result of a magnetic flip (the north pole becomes the south and vice versa).

The team used NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite telescopes to track the ultraviolet and X-rays out in this galaxy. Ground-based telescopes in areas such as Italy, the Canary Islands, and New Mexico, were also used to collect the light and radio observations.

Believe it or not, magnetic reversals aren't ultra-rare. Geologic records show that Earth's own field flips unpredictably, averaging a few reversals every million years in the recent past, notes NASA researchers. The sun experiences this phenomenon, too: It undergoes a magnetic reversal, switching its north and south poles, roughly every 11 years.

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