Black Hole
The collision of two black holes - a tremendously powerful event detected for the first time ever by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO - is seen in this still image from a computer simulation released in Washington February 11, 2016. Reuters/The SXS

An international team of scientists used the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) telescope in the Atacama Desert to get the first-ever glimpse of a supermassive black hole readying to gorge itself on gas clouds. The scientists spotted three clouds rushing towards the giant black hole at a tremendous speed of up to 1.3 million kilometres per hour. The black hole is about a billion light years away from Earth.

The clouds, composed mainly of carbon monoxide, are at the edge of being devoured and are only 300 light years from the huge black hole. The study, published in journal Nature, is first direct evidence for the theory via microwave-spectrum observation, that black holes feed on cold gas clouds. Cardiff University’s Timothy Davis found the experience “magical.”

The team of researchers found the feeding process to be “clumpy” and “chaotic” and not simple, smooth and clean as previously thought.

“It was magical being able to see evidence of these clouds accreting onto the supermassive black hole. At that very moment, nature gave us a clear view of this complicated process, allowing us to understand supermassive black holes in a way that has never been possible before,” Davis said in a statement.

He added that the ALMA data provided snapshots of what is going on around the supermassive black hole at one precise time. It is quite possible that the black hole has a much bigger appetite and will keep on devouring cold clouds of gas surrounding it.

This incredible phenomenon was spotted by chance as the scientists were trying to measure how many stars are born in the galaxy when they spotted the clouds. Black holes are invisible as they are extremely dense regions in space-time with a gravitational force so immense that even light cannot escape it.

However, as stuff falls inside the black hole, they get heated to very high temperatures and this emits a lot of light. Scientists were able to see this light and used the black hole as a backlight.