The Black Hole’s powerful outburst creates a series of stellar jewels

By | February 28, 2024

Astronomers have discovered one of the most powerful black hole eruptions ever – and this immense explosion, which took place almost 4 billion years ago, formed a pattern of stars in clusters that resemble jewelry.

The star chain adorns a huge cluster of hundreds of galaxies called SDSS J1531; this body is located about 3.8 billion light-years from Earth. The cluster of galaxies is also home to a huge reservoir of hot gas, and at its heart two of the largest galaxies are merging into one. The burst that scientists have spotted likely comes from the supermassive black hole in one of those colliding galaxies.

And as these galaxies continued their trajectory to collide with each other, scientists were able to discern an S-shaped array of 19 massive star clusters called “superclusters.”

To investigate the formation of the supercluster array, astronomers from around the world used a wealth of data related to the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio wave data from the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope, and collected visible light and X-ray data by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Understanding the formation of this incredible feature could result in a better picture of how supermassive black holes shape the environment around them.

“Black hole eruptions, like the one that helped form the superclusters in SDSS J1531, are expected to be very important in keeping the gas in galaxy clusters warm,” said Timothy Davis, a research team member and scientist at Cardiff University. said in a statement. “Finding such clear evidence of this ongoing process allows us to understand the impact of monstrous black holes on their environment.”

Related: Brightest quasar ever seen is powered by a black hole that eats ‘a sun a day’

Unlikely heavenly jewelers

Supermassive black holes with masses millions or even billions of times that of the Sun are believed to reside at the hearts of all major galaxies.

While many of these cosmic monsters lurk quietly, like Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) at the heart of the Milky Way, others feed voraciously on gas, dust and even stars around them. These supermassive black holes are part of what are known as active galactic nuclei (AGN) and are surrounded by disks of gas and dust that feed them. These disks are called accretion disks. The enormous gravitational pulls from these actively feeding black holes create turbulent conditions in their respective accretion disks, causing the surrounding area to glow brightly.

Furthermore, any matter that does not fall into the supermassive black hole is channeled towards the poles of the cosmic titan by powerful magnetic fields. Here, these charged particles are accelerated to speeds approaching that of light, and erupt as highly collimated relativistic jets from both poles of the black hole. This burst is usually accompanied by an explosion of electromagnetic radiation over a range of light wavelengths.

As a result, AGNs and their associated quasars are often so bright that they outshine the combined light of every star in the galaxies around them.

An artist's impression of an active galactic nucleus.

An artist’s impression of an active galactic nucleus.

As the jet erupting from one of the giant galaxies at the heart of SDSS J1531 pushes outward, the team says it is plowing hot gas away from the black hole. The team behind this research believes that such activities have created a giant cavity around the void.

“We are already looking at this system as it existed four billion years ago, not long after Earth formed,” team leader and Harvard Center for Astrophysics researcher Osase Omoruyi said in the statement. “This ancient cavity, a fossil of the black hole, tells us about an important event that occurred almost 200 million years earlier in the cluster’s history.”

In reconstructing this violent sequence of events with Chandra, Omoruyi and colleagues tracked the movements of the dense gas near the heart of SDSS J1531. This revealed bright X-ray “wings” at the edge of the cavity. Radio wave data from LOFAR revealed to the team the remnants of energetic particles associated with the erupting jet, the ‘smoking gun’ evidence of this ancient, powerful eruption.

“This system clearly has a very active black hole, which erupts repeatedly and strongly affects the gas around it,” Davis said. “Here we detect the smoking gun and see its impact at once.”

The energy of this jet’s eruption is one of the highest ever recorded. Omoruyi explained in a blog for Harvard that the jet released 100,000 trillion times more energy than the sun during its entire lifespan.

“As the beam propagated through space, it carved a giant bubble into the cooling gas, lifting and spreading the surrounding material,” she continued. “Despite this eruption occurring almost 200 million years ago, the eruption’s legacy continues. The previously lifted gas has now cooled and is moving back towards the center of the cluster, providing the new fuel for the young ‘beads on a string’ star formation. .”

Omoruyi added that while the discovery of this powerful outflow was surprising in itself, one of the most remarkable things about this observation is the fact that the overall cluster has remained stable.

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What the team has yet to discover is evidence of the second powerful jet that would have erupted in the opposite direction and from the other pole of the supermassive black hole. The researchers believe that with further investigation, evidence for these jet twins could be found in X-ray and radio wave emissions.

“We think our evidence for this massive eruption is strong, but more observations with Chandra and LOFAR would confirm the case,” Omoruyi concluded. “We hope to learn more about the origin of the cavity we have already detected and find the expected cavity on the other side of the black hole.”

The team’s research has been published in the paper repository arXiv and has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

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