The most massive explosion ever seen in the history of the Universe broke through a plasma cloud a few hundreds of millions of years ago, making it the most massive blow off ever seen by astronomers since the Big Bang, new research says.
The explosion, focused on a supermassive black hole (SMBH) in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, located about 390 million light-years from Earth, generated powerful jets, breaking a mammoth hole about 15 times more massive than the Milky Way in the cloud of plasma encircling the galactic cluster.
“We’ve seen outbursts in the centers of galaxies before, but this one is really, really massive. And we don’t know why it’s so big. But it happened very slowly — like an explosion in slow motion that took place over hundreds of millions of years,” Melanie Johnston-Hollitt from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said.
Explosion Similar to the Big Bang
Every main galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole close to its core, and powerful eruptions have been observed before around these mysterious cosmic bodies, but not quite like the one discovered in the new research, though.
This was the most massive explosion known in the Universe, about five times more powerful than a similar event in the galaxy cluster called MS 0735+74, which is also the previous record-holder. This event would have needed the SMBH there to eat 300 solar masses of material throughout 100 million years, Chandra X-Ray Observatory scientists said. Still, even these numbers are exceeded by the explosion this new study focuses upon.
“We found that the X-ray structure is, in fact, a giant cavity in the X-ray gas filled with diffuse radio emission with an extraordinarily steep radio spectrum. It thus appears to be a very aged fossil of the most powerful AGN outburst seen in any galaxy cluster,” researchers wrote in an article published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Black holes are popular for pulling matter towards their cores through their strong gravitational field. However, these mysterious cosmic bodies are also able to redirect matter coming their way into powerful jets that reach the deep space.
“What is special about this example is that it’s one of the cases where we are looking at a host galaxy embedded in a galaxy cluster, and the jets have carved out an enormous cavity in the hot X-ray plasma that fills the cluster. There are about 50 of these cavities known, which might seem like a lot, but given the enormous number of AGN in the Universe, that’s actually not many, and the example in Ophiuchus is the most energetic,” professor Johnston-Hollitt explained.
The Crater was not the Cause
Researchers using X-ray telescopes had observed the gaseous crater before but did not believe the feature could be the outcome of a blow-off because if the giant size of the crater.
Utilizing NASA‘s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA‘s XMM-Newton, the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India, and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia to estimate the relic in radio waves, scientists figured that what they were observing was actually the result of an explosion of majestic magnitudes.
“The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove. This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here,” said Maxim Markevitch of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Powerful explosions in galaxies can generate massive amounts of energy, but most of the Solar System close to such an event would flee from such happening unless they were on the trajectory of one of the powerful jets created during an eruption.
“If you happen to be in the way of one of these radio jets, you’d be blasted with highly energetic particles and strong magnetic fields. However, when the emission starts deep within the galaxy, it’s actually very narrow, and so it wouldn’t hit too many things. The jets broaden as the move away from the black hole and outside of the host galaxy,” Johnston-Hollitt explained.
Future scientific tools may reveal new and even more powerful events like the one observed in Ophiuchus.