The biggest explosion since the Big Bang occured in space this week

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Rachel Mirakova | The Ticker

Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

Devlin continued, “When the inward flow reaches a certain limit, a proportion escapes being swallowed by the black hole and is redirected into jets that blast out in two perpendicular beams at close to the speed of light.”

The result of this process within the supermassive black hole was an explosion that created by a crater the size of 15 Milky Way galaxies in the surrounding space and gas, according to Simona Giacintucci.

To put it in perspective, Giacintucci states “this blast is similar to how the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 ripped off the top of the mountain.”

While an explosion of this strength and proportion has never been seen before, it was not entirely unforeseeable.

Activity reported in 2016 with the use of the NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory demonstrated the potential of an explosion within the Ophiuchus cluster.

“In 2016, astronomer Norbert Werner and his colleagues noticed that there appeared to be a cavity in hot gas created by the black hole’s jets,” said Ashley Strickland of CNN. “But the cavity was so large and would have required so much energy to form that they didn’t think it was possible.”

Four years later, some astronomists are still skeptical of the possibility that this explosion came as a result of the cavity they discovered and observed in 2016.

However, after the team at the Chandra Observatory discovered their X-ray data of the area surrounding the supermassive black hole correlated with radio wavelength data collected from ground telescopes, the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India confirmed an explosion of great magnitude occurred right in the center of the Ophiuchus cluster.

“The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove,” said NASA astrophysicist Maxim Markevitch.

The combination of these two sources of data is critical to the detection of the supermassive black hole responsible for the explosion. While the Chandra Observatory has continued to monitor the supermassive black hole, astronomers are beginning to believe the explosion is coming to a close due to evidence from radio data showing the decrease in jets of energy.

NASA notes “this shutdown can be explained by the Chandra data, which show that the densest and coolest gas seen in X-rays is currently located at a different position from the central galaxy.”

“If this gas shifted away from the galaxy it will have deprived the black hole of fuel for its growth, turning off the jets.”

As a result of the decrease in gas within the Ophiuchus cluster, the supermassive black hole has lost the energy necessary to produce the jets that originally led to the explosion.

While astronomers have made great progress on this phenomenon and have developed a considerable understanding of the causes for the explosion, there are still areas of confusion regarding the release of energy from the supermassive black hole.

Although jets of energy are commonly released from both sides of a black hole, radio emissions recorded by ground telescopes monitoring the Ophiuchus cluster have not shown any activity from the opposite side of the black hole.

Now, scientists and astronomers are searching for answers to strengthen their comprehension of the explosion and black holes overall.

Although astronomers have a grasp for the situation involving the explosion, they face a formidable challenge in attempting to get a full understanding of how black holes function.

“There are many remaining questions about black holes that the coordinated NASA observations may help answer. Mysteries linger about why particles get such a huge energy boost around black holes, forming dramatic jets that surge away from the poles of black holes at nearly the speed of light. When material falls into the black hole, where does the energy go?” said NASA.

Nearly a year prior to the recent discovery of the explosion, a team at NASA utilized an Event Horizon Telescope to capture the first photograph of a black hole.

The photograph has since been viewed as a landmark achievement in the research of black holes and has been a beacon of hope for several astronomers who yearn for more information regarding the phenomenon of black holes.

The recent findings in the Ophiuchus cluster regarding the supermassive black hole have been another step in the right direction for astronomers searching for more answers on this phenomenon.

The combination of X-ray data from the Chandra observatory and radio data from several other ground telescopes will be essential to our growing understanding black holes.