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South Coast Astronomers Join International Team Of Scientists In Making Discovery About Black Holes

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Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Artist's Conception of an accretion disk of material flowing around a supermassive black hole, launching a jet of energetic particles

South Coast astronomers were part of an international team of scientists who made a new discovery about black holes.

Researchers from Goleta-based Las Cumbres Observatory used their worldwide network of robotic telescopes as they worked with other scientists, NASA satellites and the International Space Station to observe something never seen before.

They discovered a new class of flares associated with supermassive black holes, which are located in the centers of galaxies and are millions of times the mass of the sun. Scientists have long believed that there were just two ways in which these black holes eat and grow: Either by ripping apart a star or by continuous accretion from a disk of material.

But their recent observations have determined a third kind of flare that is longer lived than the first but not as constant as the second. In this new phenomenon, the area around the black hole increases in optical and ultraviolet emission by about 50-percent and in x-rays by factors of several times, for more than a year before fading.