Did you know that black holes can burp? According to the world’s leading space agency, they can. They can also scream, kiss, and smile.
NASA’s Chandra observatory has spotted a nearby supermassive black hole producing “violent outbursts” of gas, 26 million lightyears from Earth. “For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas,” said Eric Schlegel, the lead author of the study detailing the discovery, in a Jan. 5 press release.
“Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” he noted.
The researchers detected two arcs of emitted X-rays that they believe are the ancient remnants of these “burps.” After the black hole belched, hot gas emissions then “snow-plowed” over cooler hydrogen gas at the center of the galaxy, which may have triggered the creation of new stars.
It’s not the first time NASA has described space phenomena as body functions. In 2013, the Hubble telescope observed a star in the throes of what scientists described as a “sneezing fit.” Galaxy clusters have smiled. Stars have kissed. Zombie stars have screamed.
There’s a reason why NASA anthropomorphizes space in many of its headlines. The agency’s entire social media strategy was borne of the idea to name its satellites and give them unique personalities. What better way to care about a flying piece of space junk than to have it playfully talk to its fans on Twitter? In the same vein, what better way to get people to actually care about faraway balls of gas than to say they’re kissing?
(NASA also loves to use other types of creative analogies: “hedgehog” robots, “dragon scales” on Pluto, “deep-fried” comet ice cream, and “close cousins” of Earth.)
This strategy works well for NASA, and there’s no reason it’ll stop anytime soon. Here are some potential NASA headlines that you might read in the future:
- “Star literally murders its twin after billion-year tussle”
- “Black hole vomits all over galaxy, refuses to clean up”
- “Lonely, sad comet cries icy tears across solar system”
- “Kepler spacecraft observes ‘twerking’ exoplanet”