The X-ray brightening reached a peak in January 2011 and then slowly subsided over the course of a year.
"The observation was completely unexpected, from a galaxy that has been quiet for at least 20–30 years," said Marek Nikolajuk of the University of Bialystok, Poland, lead author of the research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
By analyzing the energy of the emissions and the period of time the "feeding" lasted, astronomers were able to calculate the mass of the black hole's meal. An object with a mass of 14-30 Jupiters had strayed too close, gotten ripped to shreds and formed a short-lived accretion disk around the black hole's event horizon. This mass is consistent with a large planet or small brown dwarf being eaten alive. The matter then spiraled into the black hole, generating massive quantities of radiation in the process.
ANALYSIS: Can a Black Hole Have an ‘Aurora'?
But the celestial horrors don't stop there.
The black hole, weighing in at around 300,000 solar masses, tormented its prey before the "sub-stellar object" was completely pulled apart. The X-ray emissions fluctuated over 2-3 months, suggesting the object passed close, suffered some extreme tidal shear, causing layers of gas to be ripped away before the whole thing was finally consumed.