Black Hole Beast Blasts Galaxy-Sized Gaps in Space

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You don’t need ballistics tests for this crime scene; only the incredibly powerful jets from a supermassive black hole would have the force and energy to blast holes like this in a cosmic gas cloud — holes big enough to drive our entire Milky Way galaxy through!

Wait, did I say supermassive? I meant ultramassive. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

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The image above is a composite from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows the x-ray glow from an enormous cloud of gas at the center of a cluster of galaxies. This cluster, named RX J1532.9+3021 (its friends call it RX J1532), is 3.9 billion light-years away and extremely massive – about a thousand trillion times more massive than our sun (and about a thousand times more massive than our entire galaxy.)

See those two dark spaces in the x-ray-bright cloud to the upper right and lower left of its bright center? Those are gigantic holes that have been carved out of the hot gas surrounding RX J1532′s central elliptical galaxy. Each one is around 100,000 light-years wide — about the width of the Milky Way. (See a labeled version of the image here.)

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They’re thought to be the result of jets firing from the poles of an ultramassive black hole at the center of the elliptical galaxy, a staggeringly large (that is, massive) object containing the equivalent mass of over 10 billion suns.

Put another way, that one black hole could itself contain nearly one-tenth of all the stellar masses in our entire galaxy, if all stars were like our sun (even though they aren’t).  Still, that’s an incredible cosmic beast.

A black hole of that magnitude and mass would, especially if it is spinning rapidly, fire powerful, twisting jets of energy and matter from its poles far, far out into space. These jets — which have been observed in radio frequencies with the NSF’s Very Large Array (VLA) — travel at supersonic speeds through the surrounding gas, blowing it aside and leaving the large cavities seen by Chandra.

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In addition to making galaxy-sized holes, the jets and the shockwaves they create keep the hot gas in the cloud from cooling and condensing to form trillions of new stars.

It’s kind of like cosmic birth control. (Consult your physician before trying it though.)

These findings have been published in the Nov. 10th, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

Source: Chandra news release

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