Powerful Jets From a Black Hole are Spawning Star Clusters

A composite image of cluster of galaxies called SDSS J1531+3414 in X-ray, optical, and radio light. The overall scene resembles a colorful display of lights as if viewed through a wet, glass window. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/O. Omoruyi et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/G. Tremblay et al.; Radio: ASTRON/LOFAR; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk.

Supermassive black holes are messy feeders, and when they’re gorging on too much material, they can hurl high-energy jets into the surrounding Universe. Astronomers have found one of the most powerful eruptions ever seen, emanating from a black hole 3.8 billion light-years away. The powerful jets are blowing out cavities in intergalactic space and triggering the formation of a huge chain of star clusters.

Continue reading “Powerful Jets From a Black Hole are Spawning Star Clusters”

The Brightest Object Ever Seen in the Universe

This artist’s impression shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

It’s an exciting time in astronomy today, where records are being broken and reset regularly. We are barely two months into 2024, and already new records have been set for the farthest black hole yet observed, the brightest supernova, and the highest-energy gamma rays from our Sun. Most recently, an international team of astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile reportedly saw the brightest object ever observed in the Universe: a quasar (J0529-4351) located about 12 billion light years away that has the fastest-growing supermassive black hole (SMBH) at its center.

Continue reading “The Brightest Object Ever Seen in the Universe”

Gravastars are an Alternative Theory to Black Holes. Here's What They'd Look Like

Artist view of a black hole in the middle of solar system. Credit: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures CC0

One of the central predictions of general relativity is that in the end, gravity wins. Stars will fuse hydrogen into new elements to fight gravity and can oppose it for a time. Electrons and neutrons exert pressure to counter gravity, but their stability against that constant pull limits the amount of mass a white dwarf or neutron star can have. All of this can be countered by gathering more mass together. Beyond about 3 solar masses, give or take, gravity will overpower all other forces and collapse the mass into a black hole.

Continue reading “Gravastars are an Alternative Theory to Black Holes. Here's What They'd Look Like”

Black Holes Existed at the Dawn of Time, Birthing Stars and Encouraging Galaxy Formation

An illustration of a magnetic field generated by a supermassive black hole in the early universe, showing turbulent plasma outflows that help turn nearby gas clouds into stars. New findings suggest this process might be responsible for accelerated star formation in the first 50 million years of the universe. Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Johns Hopkins University
An illustration of a magnetic field generated by a supermassive black hole in the early universe, showing turbulent plasma outflows that help turn nearby gas clouds into stars. New findings suggest this process might be responsible for accelerated star formation in the first 50 million years of the universe. Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Johns Hopkins University

The Universe is full of galaxies, many containing supermassive black holes. That sparked a question: which came first—the galaxies or their black holes? The answer is becoming very clear, thanks to the first year of observations made by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Black holes were in the Universe from the earliest times, along with the very first galaxies. And, they helped shape the cosmos we observe today.

Continue reading “Black Holes Existed at the Dawn of Time, Birthing Stars and Encouraging Galaxy Formation”

The Event Horizon Telescope Zooms in on a Black Hole's Jet

The jet of the black hole in 3C 84 at different spatial scales. Credit: Georgios Filippos Paraschos (MPIfR)

Although supermassive black holes are common throughout the Universe, we don’t have many direct images of them. The problem is that while they can have a mass of millions or billions of stars, even the nearest supermassive black holes have tiny apparent sizes. The only direct images we have are those of M87* and Sag A*, and it took a virtual telescope the size of Earth to capture them. But we are still in the early days of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), and improvements are being made to the virtual telescope all the time. Which means we are starting to look at more supermassive black holes.

Continue reading “The Event Horizon Telescope Zooms in on a Black Hole's Jet”

The Early Universe Had Small Galaxies with Oversized Black Holes

When doing the marketing for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA and the other telescope contributors liked to point out how it would open up the early universe to scrutiny. They weren’t exaggerating, and now scientific studies are starting to proliferate that show why. A new study published by authors from Harvard, the University of Arizona, and the University of Cambridge used three surveys produced by the JWST to analyze the supermassive black holes at the center of early galaxies. And they found they were much different than the one at the center of our own, at least in terms of relative size.

Continue reading “The Early Universe Had Small Galaxies with Oversized Black Holes”

A Black Hole Has Cleared Out Its Neighbourhood

An artist's illustration of a supermassive black hole (SMBH.) The SMBH in a distant galaxy expelled all the material in its accretion disk, clearing out a vast area. Image Credit: ESA

We can’t see them directly, but we know they’re there. Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) likely dwell at the center of every large galaxy. Their overwhelming gravity draws material toward them, where it collects in an accretion disk, waiting its turn to cross the event horizon into oblivion.

But in one galaxy, the SMBH has choked on its meal and spit it out, sending material away at high speeds and clearing out the entire neighbourhood.

Continue reading “A Black Hole Has Cleared Out Its Neighbourhood”

It's a Fine Line Between a Black Hole Energy Factory and a Black Hole Bomb

Ray traced shadow of a spinning and charged black hole. Credit: Simon Tyran, CC BY-SA 4.0

Black holes are powerful gravitational engines. So you might imagine that there must be a way to extract energy from them given the chance, and you’d be right. Certainly, we could tap into all the heat and kinetic energy of a black hole’s accretion disk and jets, but even if all you had was a black hole in empty space, you could still extract energy from a trick known as the Penrose process.

Continue reading “It's a Fine Line Between a Black Hole Energy Factory and a Black Hole Bomb”

Webb Sees Dozens Of Young Quasars in the First Billion Years of the Universe

Artist's impression of blue quasar in the early universe. Credit: S. Munro / CC BY 4.0

Within almost every galaxy is a supermassive black hole. Millions, sometimes billions of solar masses locked within an event horizon of space and time. They can power luminous quasars, drive star formation, and change the evolution of a galaxy. Because of their size and abundance, supermassive black holes must have formed early in cosmic history. But how early is still an unanswered question. It’s a focus of a recent study on the arXiv.

Continue reading “Webb Sees Dozens Of Young Quasars in the First Billion Years of the Universe”

This is the Oldest Black Hole Ever Seen

A view of the galaxy GN-z11, which harbors the oldest known black hole in the Universe. Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and P. Oesch (Yale University)
A view of the galaxy GN-z11, which harbors the oldest known black hole in the Universe. Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and P. Oesch (Yale University)

There’s an incredibly ancient black hole out there that’s challenging astronomers to explain how it could exist only 400 million years after the Big Bang. It’s at the heart of a galaxy called GN-z11. Astronomers using JWST saw evidence of it gobbling up that galaxy, which is one way a black hole can grow.

Continue reading “This is the Oldest Black Hole Ever Seen”