Most Powerful Eruption in the Universe Discovered

Ohio University astronomer Brian McNamara and colleagues reported the discovery of the most powerful outburst known from a supermassive black hole. The discovery was made using NASA's earth-orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. The scientists pointed the world's most powerful X-ray telescope at a cluster of galaxies roughly 2.6 billion light-years from Earth to study the X-rays emitted from the 60 million degree gas that lies between the galaxies. The X-ray image revealed two enormous cavities in the hot gas, each roughly 650,000 light years across. More than 600 galaxies the size of our own Milky Way would fit in the cavities. The cavities are surrounded by shock waves--sonic booms--showing they are advancing at high speed. The cavities and sonic booms were created by an outburst from a supermassive black hole with the force of nearly a billion gamma-ray bursts. The black hole, whose mass is roughly a billion times the mass of the sun, must have devoured more than 300 million times the mass of the sun during the outburst. This result, reported in the January 6, 2005 issue of the journal Nature, shows that supermassive black holes shape the growth of galaxies and large-scale structure in the Universe. Surprisingly, supermassive black holes are growing rapidly today, and not only when the Universe was much younger.

McNamara and his graduate student David Rafferty are members of Ohio University's Astrophysical Institute. The work was undertaken as part of Ohio University's 1.4 million dollar research initiative to study the structure of the Universe on the smallest and largest scales. The co-authors of the Nature study are Paul Nulsen (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Michael Wise (MIT), David Rafferty (Ohio U.), Chris Carilli (National Radio Astronomy Observatory), Craig Sarazin (University of Virginia), and Elizabeth Blanton (Boston University).

The following links explain the work that was done and its implications:

Ohio University Press Release .

CHANDRA x-ray telescope Press Release.

Scientific paper in Nature .

The following image is courtesy of NASA:

[January 2005]

News in 2005


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