Massive Black Hole Erupts Covering Area of 16 Full Moons

by Clayton Edwards

Recently, astronomers with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research captured a detailed image of the black hole at the center of Centaurus A. The galaxy is the Milky Way’s closest celestial neighbor and is about 12 million light-years from Earth. Scientists have been aware of the black hole’s existence for quite some time. However, it is only now, with advances in radio telescope technology, that they could capture a detailed image of the black hole’s eruption.

To get a complete picture of the black hole and its eruption, astronomers have to use radio telescopes. These instruments collect radio waves from space and translate them into visible images. Before, the Centaurus A black hole was too bright to get a clear picture of. Put another way, its radio signals were so strong that they overwhelmed older radio telescopes. Now, however, the ICRAR has developed the Murchison Widefield Array. This instrument has a wide field of view and can pull in and decipher a massive amount of radio wave data.

Recently, the ICRAR posted a video that shows what the Murchison Widefield Array captured. It shows the supermassive black hole’s eruption compared to the size of the full moon in the sky. Check it out below.

Centaurus A from ICRAR on Vimeo.

According to the video’s description, it shows the black hole using “optical, X-ray, and submillimeter wavelengths” from Earth. They compare that view to the full moon. Then, the image zooms out to show the image that the MWA captured. The difference is amazing. The radio waves show a massive eruption coming out of the black hole that is about 16 times the size of the full moon.

What Causes the Eruption from Centaurus A’s Black Hole?

Dr. Benjamin McKinley works in the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. Additionally, he is the lead author on the project that captured the image of the black hole’s eruption. He discussed his team’s findings with the ICRAR.

About the eruption, Dr. McKinley said, “These radio waves come from material being sucked into the supermassive black hole in the middle of the galaxy.” Then, he elaborated. “It forms a disc around the black hole, and as the matter gets ripped apart going close to the black hole, powerful jets form on either side of the disc.”

Those jets, he said, eject most of the matter back into space. When it leaves the black hole, the matter is traveling at close to light speed. Dr. McKinley added that the matter travels about a million light-years.

The astrophysicist explained that the eruption looks brightest close to the black hole because that area holds the most amount of energy. As the matter travels away from the black hole its energy fades and the radio bubble becomes less dense.

This discovery will allow scientists to better understand the physics of black holes in the future.