Astronomers discover one of the largest black holes ever detected using gravitational lensing
Astronomers from Durham University in the UK have discovered one of the largest black holes ever detected, which is around 30 billion times the mass of our Sun. This black hole is on the upper limit of how large scientists believe black holes can theoretically become, making it an extremely exciting discovery. Most of the largest black holes known are in an active state, where matter pulled in close to the black hole heats up and releases energy in the form of light, X-rays, and other radiation. However, through gravitational lensing, the researchers were able to study an inactive black hole, something not currently possible in distant galaxies. Gravitational lensing is a natural phenomenon in which the gravity of a massive body bends the light that is being emitted from a distant object. By acting as a lens, the gravity of the massive object amplifies and enlarges the shape of the distant object's light.
The researchers used gravitational lensing to study a distant galaxy named PBC J2333.9-2343, which was previously classified as a radio galaxy with an active galactic nucleus (AGN) at its center. The team discovered that the relativistic jet of its supermassive black hole had changed its direction by up to 90 degrees, going from being in the plane of the sky, perpendicular to our line of sight, to pointing directly towards us. The fact that they could see the nucleus, but it was not feeding the lobes anymore, indicates that they are very old and the relics of past activity, whereas the structures located closer to the nucleus represent younger and active jets.
This is the first black hole found using gravitational lensing, with the team simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times. To confirm the size of the supermassive black hole, the scientists utilized simulations on supercomputers at Durham University and images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is hoped that this new approach could allow astronomers to find more inactive and ultramassive black holes in the distant universe. This opens up the tantalizing possibility that astronomers can discover more ultra-massive black holes than previously thought, revealing how these exotic objects evolved further back in cosmic time.
While scientists are currently unsure what sparked the change in direction of the black hole, several people believe that PBC J2333.9-2343 collided with another galaxy, resulting in the shift of direction. According to the team, previous observations have shown that other AGNs have redirected their jets, but only from one part of the sky perpendicular to another. The repositioning of PBC J2333.9-2343's jet towards Earth has resulted in a modification of its classification, representing the first occurrence of such an event. Nevertheless, there have been instances where galaxies assumed to be tranquil have abruptly transformed into quasars.
The most massive objects in the universe are ultra-massive black holes, which weigh between 10 billion and 40 billion times the mass of the Sun. They are the most massive objects in the universe, and some are truly huge and are billions of times the mass of our Sun. Through further observations and research, scientists hope to understand more about these mysterious objects and their role in the universe.
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