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A sack lunch for a black hole looks like a spectacular smorgasbord

Astronomers' observations of a distant black hole challenge the assumption that the mysterious voids prefer to dine exclusively on hot meals.

This artist's rendering shows clouds of cold gas plunging into a ravenous black hole at the center of the Abell 2597 Brightest Cluster Galaxy.

For the first time, scientists have witnessed a gluttonous black hole chowing down on a cold lunch, and it turns out to be quite the beautiful buffet.

The above depiction shows a large, bright galaxy a billion light-years away sucking up clouds of cold cosmic gas, challenging scientists' previous understanding that black holes feed exclusively on hot ionized galactic gases.

"Although it has been a major theoretical prediction in recent years, this is one of the first unambiguous pieces of observational evidence for a chaotic, cold 'rain' feeding a supermassive black hole," Yale astronomer Grant Tremblay said in a statement. Tremblay is the lead author of a study (PDF) published Thursday in the journal Nature. "It's exciting to think we might actually be observing this galaxy-spanning 'rainstorm' feeding a black hole whose mass is about 300 million times that of our Sun."

The observations were made using the using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a large telescope in Chile. While the black hole's cloudy cocktail might be chilled, the clouds are traveling at speeds of almost 800,000 miles per hour on their way to being consumed by a mysterious void. Or, if the premise of our crowdsourced science fiction novel is true, perhaps they're just making their way through that black hole to a parallel universe...