GREEN BANK, W.Va. (WBOY) — A recent discovery about mysterious radio bubbles surrounding a supermassive black hole using West Virginia’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) has scientists excited.
The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) says supermassive black holes are found deep within the centers of galaxy clusters, which are normally extremely hot—about 50 million degrees Celsius—more than three times hotter than the surface of Earth’s sun.
Over time, the GBO said those galaxy clusters cool, and new stars can form, but sometimes, the black hole reheats the gas surrounding it through violent outbursts jetting from its center, preventing cooling and star formation. During that process, hot gas is pushed farther from the cluster center and replaced with radio-emitting bubbles.
It takes a very large amount of energy for that to happen, but scientists recently observed this behavior using the GBT in a galaxy cluster called MS0735.
“We’re looking at one of the most energetic outbursts ever seen from a supermassive black hole,” Jack Orlowski-Scherer of McGill University, lead author of the publication, said in a press release. “This is what happens when you feed a black hole and it violently burps out a giant amount of energy.”
The GBO said astrophysicists are interested in understanding where the energy comes from and what’s left behind after these “burps” because it could help astronomers get closer to learning what caused them in the first place.
“With the power of MUSTANG-2, we are able to see into these cavities and start to determine precisely what they are filled with, and why they don’t collapse under pressure,” Tony Mroczkowski, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory who was part of the research, said in the release.
The GBO said the new images suggest that while some of the “burp” is due to heat, at least a portion of the pressure support in the cavities could be due to non-thermal sources, such as relativistic particles, cosmic rays, and turbulence, as well as a small contribution from magnetic fields. That would mean the pressure support within the bubbles could be more nuanced than previously thought.
“This work will help us better understand the physics of galaxy clusters, and the cooling flow feedback problem that has vexed many of us for some time,” Orlowski-Scherer said.
The full study will be featured in the latest edition of Astronomy & Astrophysics.