When the universe was still a baby – less than 1 billion years old – some of its stars turned into monster black holes. A key mystery in astronomy has been: why are there so many supermassive black holes in the early universe?
Parallel jets provide astronomers with some of the most powerful evidence that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart of most galaxies. Some of these black holes appear to be active, gobbling up material from their surroundings and launching jets at ultra-high speeds, while others are quiescent, even dormant.
During the 1960s, scientists discovered a massive radio source (known as Sagittarius A*) at the center of the Milky Way, which was later revealed to be a Supermassive Black Holes (SMBH). Since then, they have learned that these SMBHs reside at the center of most massive galaxies. The presence of these black holes is also what allows the centers of these galaxies to have a higher than normal luminosity – aka. Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs).
At the center of our galaxy, roughly 26,000 light years from Earth, lies the Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) known as Sagittarius A*. Measuring 44 million km across, this object is roughly 4 million times as massive as our Sun and exerts a tremendous gravitational pull. Since astronomers cannot detect black holes directly, its existence has been determined largely from the effect it has on the small group of stars orbiting it.
An international team of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered a supermassive black hole that has been propelled out of the centre of the distant galaxy 3C186. The black hole was most likely ejected by the power of gravitational waves. This is the first time that astronomers found a supermassive black hole at such a large distance from its host galaxy centre.
Supermassive black holes, with their immense gravitational pull, are notoriously good at clearing out their immediate surroundings by eating nearby objects. When a star passes within a certain distance of a black hole, the stellar material gets stretched and compressed -- or "spaghettified" -- as the black hole swallows it.
The mystery of a rare change in the behaviour of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy has been solved by an international team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope along with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. It seems that the black hole has fallen on hard times and is no longer being fed enough fuel to make its surroundings shine.
6 million years ago, when our first human ancestors were doing their thing here on Earth, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way was a ferocious place. Our middle-aged, hibernating black hole only munches lazily on small amounts of hydrogen gas these days. But when the first hominins walked the Earth, Sagittarius A was gobbling up matter and expelling gas at speeds reaching 1,000 km/sec. (2 million mph.)
This new image from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile captures a spectacular concentration of galaxies known as the Fornax Cluster, which can be found in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). The cluster plays host to a menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes, some of which are hiding secrets.
New research by astrophysicists has revealed the fastest ultraviolet winds ever detected near a supermassive black hole more than 10 billion light-years away. “We’re talking wind speeds of 20 percent the speed of light, which is more than 200 million kilometers an hour. That’s equivalent to a category 77 hurricane,” says Jesse Rogerson, a Ph.D. student at York University in Canada. “And we have reason to believe that there are quasar winds that are even faster.”
Black holes have long been a source of much excitement and intrigue. And interest regarding black holes will surely grow now that gravitational waves have been discovered. Many of the questions I am asked regard how “true” science fiction concerning black holes might be, and whether worm holes, such as those featured in Stargate, are real or not. Invariably though, the one item that is almost assured to come up are the largely gruesome ways in which black holes might theoretically affect human beings and the Earth itself.
The baffling and strange behaviors of black holes have become somewhat less mysterious recently, with new observations from NASA's Explorer missions Swift and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The two space telescopes caught a supermassive black hole in the midst of a giant eruption of X-ray light, helping astronomers address an ongoing puzzle: How do supermassive black holes flare?