Scientists Spot Eruption from ‘Nearby’ Supermassive Black Hole

by Clayton Edwards

As technology gets better, so too does our understanding of space. Not long ago, scientists at NASA developed a telescope that would reveal the black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Now astronomers with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research have created a highly-detailed image of the supermassive black hole at the center of a neighboring galaxy.

The galaxy known as Centaurus A is located 12 million light-years away from Earth. As a result of this massive distance, scientists had to use radio waves to get a clear picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, according to Newsweek. When using radio waves, the Centaurus A black hole is the brightest thing in the night sky. Its mass is 55 million times that of the sun. At the same time, the black hole is constantly consuming gas and any other matter that gets near it. Then, it blasts plasma into space.

The image created by scientists shows a huge eruption of plasma that stretches far beyond the reaches of Centaurus A. Plasma leaves the supermassive black hole traveling at nearly the speed of light. Over time, the energy dissipates. However, with no resistance in the vacuum of space, the energy can travel far and wide before fading. As a result, it is clearly visible through the use of radio wave technology. Astronomers estimate that the current visible plasma cloud has been growing and spreading for hundreds of millions of years.

An Expert on the Supermassive Black Hole Eruption

Benjamin McKinley works with the Curtin University arm of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. He said that the emissions from the supermassive black hole could spread over one hundred million light-years. To put that into perspective, a single light-year is about 6 trillion miles. Earth is 91.4 million miles from the sun.

McKinley also explained how the black hole creates radio waves. “These radio waves come from the material being sucked into the supermassive black hole,” he said. “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 disk, ejecting most of the material back into space.”

The astronomer points out that the disc around the supermassive black hole is brighter near the center. This is because that is where the highest level of energy and activity is located. “It’s fainter as you go out because the energy’s been lost and things have settled down,” he explained.

Before, radio wave technology could not handle the brightness of the supermassive black hole at the center of Centaurus A. Now, with the Murchison Widefield Array, they can get a better view of the black hole and the extreme amount of energy it produces.