Written by Stevika Budimir Pecan
6 hours ago
Many properties of black holes remain a mystery. (Photo: Shutterstock/REDPIXEL.PL)
Supermassive black holes lurk at the centers of large galaxies, devouring everything that comes close to them, including gas, dust and stars. New animations from NASA now take the “super” in these two supergiants to a new level.
Researchers recently discovered a supermassive black hole the size of 20 million suns that appears to have “escaped” from its host galaxy. One now appears NASA Animation Ten supermassive black holes ranging in mass from 100,000 to more than 60 billion solar masses.
It occupies the centers of its galaxies, including the Milky Way and M87, and is scaled according to the size of its shadows—represented by a circular region roughly twice the size of its event horizon. The camera starts near the sun and gradually zooms out to reveal and compare increasingly larger black holes with different structures in our solar system.
Not all supermassive black holes are the same. The animation compares them to our solar system and to each other. “Direct measurements, made with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the existence of more than 100 supermassive black holes,” said Jeremy Schnittman, a theorist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “How do they get so huge? When galaxies collide, their central black holes eventually reunite, too.”
Animation first shows 1601+3113, a dwarf galaxy hosting a 100,000-sun-mass black hole. Matter is so compact that the black hole’s shadow is smaller than our sun.
Only one of these massive objects resides at the center of our galaxy, 26,000 light-years away: Sagittarius A*, a black hole of unimaginable mass. Its enormous gravity affects a highly reactive region where energetic emissions occur. Nearby stars are moving at a high speed. Its shadow is about half the diameter of the planet Mercury in our solar system.
The gravity of these objects is so strong that not even light can escape from them. Because of this, it was impossible to take a picture of supermassive black holes. However, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of several radio telescopes, has only recently been able to take a direct look at the black hole at the center of our galaxy: Sagittarius A*. Although the image does not show the black hole itself, its “shadow” is clearly visible as a dark region within a bright orbiting ring of hot gas.
Smaller black holes appear blue in the NASA animation because their gas is thought to be hotter than the gas orbiting around the larger gas. Scientists believe that all of these objects glow intensely in ultraviolet light.
The NASA animation also shows two supermassive black holes in galaxy NGC 7727. They are about 1,600 light-years apart, one weighing 6 million solar masses and the other more than 150 million suns. Astronomers predict that the pair will converge and merge within the next 250 million years.
Seen on a larger scale than the animation M87’s black hole, which has a mass of about 5.4 billion suns and a shadow so large that a ray of light traveling at 670 million miles per hour (1 billion km/h) takes about two and a half days to cross it.
TON 618, one of the most distant and massive black holes where astronomers have been able to take direct measurements, is the culmination of this video. This behemoth contains more than 60 billion solar masses and a shadow so large that it takes a ray of light weeks to traverse it.
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