Thursday, May 12, 2005
Last Updated Fri, 07 Jan 2005 18:26:08 EST CBC News
LONDON - Scientists have observed the largest known explosion, in which a supermassive black hole sucked in matter estimated to be a billion times the mass of our sun.
In the study, researchers used NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope to find two cavities roughly 650,000 light years across in a distant cluster of galaxies.
Chandra X-ray image of galaxy cluster MS 0735.6+7421. (Courtesy: NASA/CXC/Ohio U./B.McNamara et al.)
"The eruption, which has lasted for more than 100 million years, has generated energy equivalent to hundreds of millions of gamma-ray bursts," NASA said in a release.
The telescope detected the powerful explosion, likened to a nuclear blast without the light, near a galaxy cluster called MS 0735.6+7421, about 2.6 billion light years away.
Astronomer Brian McNamara of Ohio University and his colleagues said the energy was likely generated as matter fell into the rapidly growing black hole.
Radio emissions from the cavities show jets from the blast erupted particles, magnetic fields and energy to create the cavities.
Intergalactic material is expected to cool but McNamara's team suspects heat generated by the cavities prevents the gas from cooling to create stars.
The amount of energy in the shock wave also suggests the supermassive black hole is consuming more matter than expected.
"It's like a 300-pound person eating 100 pounds of meat in one sitting," McNamara said.
The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Nature.