Washington: A new study suggests that a relatively small black hole (20-30 times the mass of our Sun) can sustain a hugely voracious appetite while consuming material in an efficient and tidy manner - something that was previously thought impossible.
The research also affects the long quest for elusive intermediate-mass black holes.
Observations of a black hole powering an energetic X-ray source in a galaxy some 22 million light-years away could change our thinking about how some black holes consume matter.
The findings indicate that this particular black hole, thought to be the engine behind the X-ray source`s high-energy light output, is unexpectedly lightweight, and, despite the generous amount of dust and gas being fed to it by a massive stellar companion, it swallows this material in a surprisingly orderly fashion.
"It has elegant manners," research team member Stephen Justham, of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said.
Such lightweights, he explains, must devour matter at close to their theoretical limits of consumption to sustain the kind of energy output observed.
"We thought that when small black holes were pushed to these limits, they would not be able to maintain such refined ways of consuming matter.
"We expected them to display more complicated behavior when eating so quickly. Apparently we were wrong," Justham added.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.