Earlier this year, scientists discovered that a “jet,” created by a very distant supermassive black hole, sent an accumulation of various space matter rocketing directly toward Earth. Scientists haven’t expressed any need for concern about the jet. However, they are intrigued by the sheer brightness of it and the vast distance between it and Earth.
Identified as AT 2022cmc, Newsweek reports the supermassive black hole’s jet was originally discovered in February. The discovery was made by an international team of scientists. That team includes experts from MIT and the University of Birmingham in the U.K. Together, they used both ground- and space-based telescopes to better observe the blackhole jet.
In doing so, they surmise the jet was created when a distant black hole consumed a nearby star. As the densest object in the universe, the blackhole essentially tore the star apart, spewing out its light. That light, or more specifically energy, then went hurtling toward earth from approximately 8.5 billion lightyears away. Scientists found the jet to travel almost as fast as the speed of light.
Rare as it is, scientists have an official name for stars torn apart by black holes such as these. They’re called “tidal disruption events,” or TDEs. The news outlet reports that while these events have occurred in the past, AT 2022cmc is unique. It’s by far the brightest and most distant on record.
Scientists Dive Into the Significance of the Supermassive Black Hole Jet
Benjamin Gompertz is an assistant professor at the University of Birmingham. He is also an author involved with the recent study. As scientists try to get a handle on what exactly astronomers have seen, Gompertz explained why this particular TDE is significant. He also shared exactly how much light was emitted from the black hole jet.
“One of the interesting things about this TDE is that we only have three other events that have had jets like this to compare it to at all,” Gompertz explained. He admitted, “It’s very much a new phenomenon that we’re getting to grips with.”
So what exactly can the international team confirm about the black hole light show?
“We can say confidently that it’s the most distant one we’ve ever found,” the professor continued. “And it’s the first time a jetted TDE has been discovered by an optical telescope.”
Gompertz also tried to provide some perspective on just how much light was emitted by the supermassive black hole.
Given both the distance and sheer amount of light that occurred during the TDE, the study author couldn’t specify exact numbers. He did say the cosmic flash put out, on average, as much energy in one second as our Sun does in a million years. For further perspective, he said, “That means that it outshone the light from the entire Milky Way Galaxy by a factor of more than a thousand.”
Aside from the mass amount of energy sent barreling toward Earth, scientists are also hopeful this massive TDE can help unravel the mystery of how black holes, perhaps the most mysterious concept in the universe, are born and how they grow. AT 2022cmc should be especially helpful as scientists caught the jet’s flash within a week or so of its origin.