Scientists unravel secrets of ‘farmers’ supermassive black holes surrounded by mysterious radio bubbles using West Virginia’s Green Bank Telescope
- Scientists have a new insight into supermassive black holes thanks to data collected by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia
- A team of astronomers used a telescope to image galaxy cluster MS0735 in a way that distorts the cosmic microwave background
- Supermassive black holes are located deep in the center of galaxies in areas where temperatures can reach 50 million degrees Celsius
- “We are looking at one of the most energetic outbursts ever seen from a supermassive black hole,” said lead author Jack Orlowski-Scherer.
Scientists have a new insight into supermassive black holes thanks to data collected by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
Supermassive black holes are located deep in the centers of galaxies in areas where temperatures can reach 50 million degrees Celsius. The black hole will sometimes reheat the surrounding gas in violent outbursts — “burps” — from its center.
These jets of gas carve out huge cavities in the hot cluster, which then push hot gas further from the center and replace it with radio-emitting bubbles. If they can learn more about what was left behind when these holes were filled, scientists could begin to understand what made them in the first place.
“We are looking at one of the most energetic outbursts ever seen from a supermassive black hole,” Jack Orlowski-Scherer, lead author of this publication and a research fellow at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, said in a statement. “This is what happens when you feed a black hole and it violently expels a massive amount of energy.”
Observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory show the huge cavities (circled in gray) excavated by the powerful radio jets (outlined in green) expelled from the black hole at the center of galaxy cluster MS0735
In a new article published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics analyzing the galaxy cluster MS0735, a team of astronomers used an instrument known as MUSTANG-2 at the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia to image the cluster in a unique way that distorts the cosmic microwave background.
The cosmic microwave background was emitted 380,000 years after the Big Bang and is considered the afterglow of the birth of our universe 13.8 billion years ago.
These new findings reinforce previous discoveries that at least some of the pressure support in the cavities is due to non-thermal sources, such as other types of particles, cosmic rays and turbulence, and possibly a small contribution from magnetic fields.
Contrary to previous research, new imaging produced by the GBT accounts for the possibility that the pressure support within the bubbles may be more nuanced than previously thought, mixing both thermal and non-thermal components.
“With the power of MUSTANG-2, we are able to look into these cavities and determine exactly what they are filled with and why they don’t collapse under pressure,” explained Tony Mroczkowski, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory. that were part of this new study.
In addition to the radio observations, the researchers also used existing X-ray observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
“We knew this was an exciting system when we studied the radio core and lobes at low frequencies, but we’re only now beginning to see the full picture,” said study co-author Tracy Clarke, an astronomer at the US Naval Research Laboratory and VLITE. Project scientist who co-authored a previous radio study of this system.
Future multi-frequency observations can more accurately determine how exotic a black hole’s outburst is.
“We knew this was an exciting system when we studied the radio core and lobes at low frequencies, but we’re only now beginning to see the full picture,” said study co-author Tracy Clarke, an astronomer at the US Naval Research Laboratory and VLITE. Project scientist who co-authored a previous radio study of this system
WHAT’S IN A BLACK HOLE?
Black holes are strange objects in the universe that get their name from the fact that nothing can escape their gravity, not even light.
If you venture too close and cross the so-called event horizon, the point from which no light can escape, you will also be trapped or destroyed.
For small black holes you would never survive such an approach anyway.
The tidal forces close to the event horizon are enough to stretch any matter into just a string of atoms, in a process physicists call “spaghettification.”
But for large black holes, such as the supermassive objects at the cores of galaxies like the Milky Way, which weigh tens of millions if not billions of times the mass of a star, crossing the event horizon would be straightforward.
Because it should be possible to survive the transition from our world to the world of the black hole, physicists and mathematicians have long wondered what that world would look like.
They’ve turned to Einstein’s general equations of relativity to predict the world inside a black hole.
These equations work well until an observer reaches the center or singularity, where in theoretical calculations the curvature of space-time becomes infinite.