Astronomers detect biggest explosion in the history of the Universe

Scientists studying a distant galaxy cluster have discovered the biggest explosion seen in the Universe since the Big Bang. The blast came from a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years away. It released five times more energy than the previous record holder.

The blast came from a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years away. It released five times more energy than the previous record holder.

Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said the event was extraordinarily energetic.

The explosion occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, about 390 million light-years from Earth. It was so powerful it punched a cavity in the cluster plasma — the super-hot gas surrounding the black hole.

Professor Johnston-Hollitt said the cavity in the cluster plasma had been seen previously with X-ray telescopes. But scientists initially dismissed the idea that it could have been caused by an energetic outburst, because it would have been too big.

The researchers only realised what they had discovered when they looked at the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster with radio telescopes.

“The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove,” said co-author Dr Maxim Markevitch, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here.”

The discovery was made using four telescopes; NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India.

The finding underscores the importance of studying the Universe at different wavelengths, Professor Johnston-Hollitt said. “Going back and doing a multi-wavelength study has really made the difference here,” she said.

Source: “Astronomers detect biggest explosion in the history of the Universe” ScienceDaily, 27 February 2020.<https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200227114459.htm>

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