Eruption in black hole 390m light years away punched cavity the size of 15 Milky Ways

Quote Originally Posted by The Guardian

The biggest cosmic explosion on record has been detected – an event so powerful that it punched a dent the size of 15 Milky Ways in the surrounding space.

The eruption is thought to have originated at a supermassive black hole in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, which is about 390m light years from Earth.

Simona Giacintucci, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC and lead author of the study, described the blast as an astronomical version of the eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980, which ripped off the top of the volcano. “A key difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster’s hot gas,” she said.

Galaxy clusters are among the largest structures in the Universe, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter and hot gas. At the heart of the Ophiuchus cluster, there is a large galaxy that contains a supermassive black hole, with a mass equivalent to 10m suns.

Although black holes are known as sinkholes that consume anything that drifts too close, they also expel prodigious amounts of material and energy.

These jets occur when a disk of plasma accretes around the central black hole. When the inward flow reaches a certain limit a proportion escapes being swallowed by the black hole and is redirected into jets that blast out in two perpendicular beams at close to the speed of light.

In this case, scientists think a jet would have travelled in a narrow beam for a certain distance, then hit something in space, which caused the beam to explode outwards in a burst of radio emissions. Maxim Markevitch of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and co-author of the paper, compared the process to a stream of air travelling down a drinking straw and then turning into a bubble at the end of the straw.