British Astronomers Discover 5 “Supermassive” Black Holes

Hidden deep beneath a surface of gas and dust were five monster black holes that got recently discovered by British astronomers. They also suggest that there are millions more lying undetected in the galaxy.

Black holes are large cosmic mass with a gravitational pull so strong that nothing can escape, not even light. The compressed mass of hundreds of thousands to billions of suns forms black holes.

Supermassive black holes, just as the name suggests, are the largest cosmic drains of any galaxy and they suck materials to a point of infinite density. They can be a billion times bigger than our sun and the astronomers fear that one of them is closer to earth than previously thought. It needs to be kept in mind that the gravitational pull of a super massive black hole can pull our Earth a bit off course from its rotation around the sun leading to disasters such as extreme high and low temperatures in summer and winter. Eventually this could lead to the extinction of life on Earth.

Astronomers from Durham University used NASA’s orbiting satellite observatory Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array , shortly known as NuSTAR, to uncover the black holes. This telescope specializes in picking up particularly x-rays of high energy from objects that are light years away. It is the high energy X-rays emitted from the black holes that gave away their presence. The X-ray energy emitted by these five suggests that they are “extremely active”.

The scientists were amazed by how much busier and brighter the black holes seem to appear. According to George Lansbury, postgraduate student in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University and the lead author of the study, the black holes rapidly took in the materials surrounding them and are letting out huge amount of radiation. He further elaborated that the existence of supermassive black holes, those are not hidden by dust and gas, have been previously known. But the existence of many other hidden black holes has always been suspected. Adding to his speculation regarding millions of other hidden black holes, he said that extrapolation of their results across the total universe may lead to finding a huge number of black holes.

About the telescope Lansbury said, “For the first time, thanks to NuSTAR, we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive.”

Daniel Stern, NuSTAR’s project scientist working in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, said that since the penetrating power of high energy X rays are more than that of the low energy ones, it allows us to see deeper into the gas that buries the black holes. “NuSTAR allows us to see how big the hidden monsters are,” he added, “and it is helping us learn why only some black holes appear obscured.”

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded this research and The Astrophysical Journal has accepted it for publication. The findings of this research have been presented at the meeting of Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy, which has been held in Llandudno, Wales on July 6th 2015.


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