News about black holes is usually accompanied by some fun description of them eating stuff. Stars, planets, even asteroids are on the galactic menu. But in the case of the supermassive black hole at center of NGC 253 (the Sculptor galaxy), the opposite is true. It's not doing much at all. In fact, it appears to have taken leave from its supermassive duties of reigning gravitational terror over the matter inside its galactic core.
"Our results imply that the black hole went dormant in the past 10 years," said Bret Lehmer of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "Periodic observations with both Chandra and NuSTAR should tell us unambiguously if the black hole wakes up again. If this happens in the next few years, we hope to be watching." Lehmer is lead author of the new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.
ANALYSIS: Our Galaxy's Black Hole Has the ‘Munchies'
Although the black hole is taking a nap, that doesn't mean the galaxy isn't picking up the slack. NGC 253 is one of the nearest "starburst" galaxies to the Milky Way, some 13 million light-years away, churning out newborn stars at an accelerated rate. It may seem surprising, then, that the black hole, with a mass of 5 million suns, is able to sleep through the star-forming commotion.