By Leah Crane
X-ray observations have revealed a huge explosion
NASA/CXC/NRL/S. Giacintucci, et al.
Astronomers have discovered the biggest explosion weve ever seen. They spotted the remnants of this blast in a distant galaxy, using some of the most powerful telescopes we have, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia.
The observations revealed a strange void at the centre of a huge galaxy about 390 million light years away in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. The space inside that void is seething with radio waves, which come from electrons accelerated almost to the speed of light.
The researchers concluded that those electrons were accelerated by a huge explosion from just near the black hole, which smashed away all the gas in the area to leave behind just a void filled with electrons and radiation. The explosion released five times more energy than the previous record-holder.
You could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the clusters hot gas, Simona Giacintucci at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who was part of the team that found the explosion, said in a press release.
This sort of explosion occurs when lots of matter is falling into a supermassive black hole, and as the black hole spins and distorts space-time, that matter is diverted into a powerful jet speeding away from it. The jet that punched a hole in this galaxy seems to be gone now.
Weve seen outbursts in the centres of galaxies before but this one is really, really massive, said Melanie Johnston-Hollitt at Curtin University, also part of the team. We dont know why its so big. The void is about 750,000 light years wide.
The energy required to create a void that large is about 10 billion times the lifetime energy output of the sun. Its not clear how the black hole could have produced it, especially given that its not active anymore.
Having the combined information from X-ray and radio telescopes has revealed this extraordinary source, but more data will be needed to answer the many remaining questions this object poses, said Johnston-Hollitt.
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A huge black hole in a distant galaxy caused the largest explosion we’ve ever seen, with the energy of 10 billion suns – and it’s not clear why it was so big
By Leah Crane