Scientists have detected a cosmic explosion in a far-off galaxy cluster that has left a hole the size of 15 Milky Ways in its wake.
In findings published in The Astrophysical Journal, researchers have reported on an enormous release of energy from a supermassive black hole some 390 million light years away from Earth. While black holes are better known for pulling in huge amounts of matter, they’re also known to expel it. And, with the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster it would appear that this is exactly what has happened.
The Ophiucus cluster has been a subject of curiosity for researchers for many years, who have noticed a curious edge on the aggregation of thousands of individual galaxies for some time now. However, Simona Giacintucci of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC described a new observation of this anomaly, which is now being seen as a massive explosion, leaving behind a hole that could fit 15 of our own Milky Way galaxies inside it.
“In some ways, this blast is similar to how the eruption of Mount St Helens (volcano) in 1980 ripped off the top of the mountain,” she said.
“A key difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster’s hot gas,”
Co-author, Maxim Markevitch, of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland commented on further observations that there were bubbles of radio emissions emerging on the curved edge of the hole. He said that these radio emissions are evidence of something huge.
“This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here,” he said.
The first observations were made through Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2016, while later combining data with ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory and radio data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India. The combination of the projects have provided compelling evidence of a major event that could provide insights into the origins of the universe. Scientists believe the explosion may have occurred due to a spike of gas supplied to the black hole, perhaps after an entire galaxy was swallowed from the centre of the cluster.
This event is thought to have occurred several hundred million years ago and the black hole shows no signs of dramatic activity at present.