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Supermassive black hole rises and shines

Astronomers watch as wake-up call rouses slumbering monster

By
1:12pm, May 6, 2011

It’s unclear whether it was a stellar meal or simply gas that woke the sleeping giant.


But astronomers say the ongoing outburst recorded by a spacecraft since March 28 is the first time scientists have witnessed the sudden activation of a dormant supermassive black hole.

David Burrows of Penn State University in University Park and his colleagues report their findings on the burst, which has continued for more than 30 days, in an article posted at arXiv.org on April 25. Burrows declined to be interviewed because the team has submitted its article to Nature.

When NASA’s Swift spacecraft first spotted the fireworks in a distant galaxy in late March, researchers classified the event as a gamma-ray burst, which typically lasts for only a few minutes to perhaps an hour (SN Online: 4/7/11).

Swift must have caught the event only minutes after its o
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