Astronomers believe they have discovered a new method for calculating the magnitude of supermassive black holes: analyzing their feeding habits.

Blinking patterns in the shining accretion disks, the thick ring of matter drawn in by a black hole's gravity, have long been seen by scientists. The reason for the flashing, however, was unknown to the researchers.

Daily Mail said supermassive black holes (SMBHs) that are billions of times more massive than the sun are located at the core of galaxies.

Black hole collision and merger releasing gravitational waves
(Photo : Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes Lensing (SXS) via Wikimedia Commons)
Collision and merger of two black holes, resulting in the first detection of gravitational waves, GW150914, by LIGO.

When SMBHs are inactive, they don't emit much light. When they are active, which generally occurs at the beginning of the universe when all known matter is consumed, the radiation they emit occasionally outshines the galaxies they dwell in, with the flickering light lasting from hours to decades.

Black Holes Make A Flick After Devouring Up Stars

According to CNet, researchers discovered that supermassive black holes generate a perceptible flickering light whose pattern is proportional to their mass while eating.

Yue Shen, a co-lead author on the new research and an astronomer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, pointed out in a statement released by Eurekalert that the stemps making the flickering during accretion are common. That is regardless of whether the central object is a white dwarf or a giant black hole.

ALSO READ: Dark Matter Mystery Unveiled? Scientists Set Up Rigs to Uncover Subatomic Collisions

Supermassive black holes, CNet said, are usually fairly dim and don't emit much light while they're inactive. When they're active and eating, though, they emit a certain way of flickering light that humans can see from the farthest reaches of the cosmos, lasting anywhere from hours to decades.

The researchers picked 67 giants to test if there was a link between the size of a supermassive black hole and the blinking light from the disk it feeds on. Each has a mass estimated to be between 10,000 and 10 billion times that of our sun.

Supermassive black holes, which are created when a single star explodes and have masses ranging from three to ten times that of our sun, are considerably larger than stellar black holes. They are formed when a single star explodes and have masses ranging from three to ten times that of our sun.

Black Holes Burp Like People After Eating Food

Burke's team examined the variability patterns to find a specific timeframe, which allowed them to correlate the blinking patterns with the mass of a giant black hole. Shorter durations of flickering imply a smaller black hole. In contrast, longer periods indicate a more massive black hole in these active, feeding supermassive black holes.

The flashing is described by the researchers as the black hole's equivalent of a burp. Science Daily said babies burp a lot more than adults. On the other hand, adults can keep in their burps for longer.

The "burps" may be able to help scientists understand the comparative sizes of not only these giant black holes, but also accreting white stars and, medium-sized black holes, which are thought to have occurred throughout the universe's history but are rare and difficult to discover.

Experts published their study, titled "A Characteristic Optical Variability Time Scale in Astrophysical Accretion Disks," in the journal Science.

RELATED ARTICLE: Short Gamma-Ray Bursts Originate From a Dying Star; Super Short GRB Recorded From Andromeda

Check out more news and information on Space in Science Times.