The data related to galaxies positioned nearly 3.5 billion light-years away from Earth, gathered by NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, have helped an international astrophysicist team to observe what are probably the most massive black holes viewed before in the universe. The computations made by the astrophysicists indicated that these “ultramassive” black holes are rapidly expanding when compared to the stars in their galaxies.
In their exploration for black holes, Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, professor in the Department of Physics at Université de Montréal, and Mar Mezcua, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain—lead authors of the article published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society—investigated 72 galaxies positioned at the center of the most massive and brightest galaxy clusters in the universe.
A black hole is an invisible celestial object whose gravitational pull is so strong that neither matter nor light can escape it—it swallows everything in its path like a bottomless vortex. A black hole is most often created when a massive star dies and collapses on itself. The most fascinating thing about black holes is how they distort time around them. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time flows more slowly in strong gravitational fields, like those of these gargantuan celestial objects.
Professor Hlavacek-Larrondo, Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics of Black Holes
The astronomers computed the masses of black holes observed in the galaxy clusters by inspecting their X-ray and radio wave emissions. The outcomes indicated that the masses of ultramassive black holes are approximately 10 times more than those originally computed by using a distinctive technique which presumes that black holes expand along with their galaxies. In addition, nearly half of the black holes in the sample are predicted to be nearly ten billion times more massive than our Sun. This places them in a category of leviathans termed as “ultramassive black holes” by astronomers.
“We have discovered black holes that are far larger and way more massive than anticipated,” indicated Mezcua. “Are they so big because they had a head start or because certain ideal conditions allowed them to grow more rapidly over billions of years? For the moment, there is no way for us to know.”
“We do know that black holes are extraordinary phenomena,” stated Hlavacek-Larrondo, “so it’s no surprise that the most extreme specimens defy the rules that we have established up until now.”
The Destructive Force of Ultramassive Black Holes
Galaxies are not completely secure from such celestial behemoths lurking at their centers. The mass of a black hole governs its power. It draws in all matter, such as stars, surrounding it and then throws back some of them in the form of energized jets that are adequately powerful to destroy a major portion of its host galaxy. “It would be like a mini, galaxy-sized Big Bang,” stated Hlavacek-Larrondo.
But there’s no need to worry about our own galaxy. Sagittarius A, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, is a bit boring. It’s not very active, much like a dormant volcano. It sucks up little matter and probably wouldn’t be able to produce destructive high-energy jets.
Why Study Black Holes Billions of Light Years Away?
The focus of Professor Hlavacek-Larrondo’s study is on black holes located in distant galaxy clusters to demonstrate that objects such as these have been remarkably affecting the surrounding galaxies and the whole universe for billions of years.
They are the most powerful objects in the universe, and they are anything but quiet. Galaxies are the building blocks of our universe, and to understand their formation and evolution, we must first understand these black holes.