Astronomy & Space

One of the largest black holes ever discovered is revealed via light-bending gravity.

Taking advantage of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, a group of astronomers has discovered one of the largest black holes ever discovered.

Using supercomputer simulations and gravitational lensing on the DiRAC HPC facility, the Durham University, UK-based team was able to examine how light is distorted by a black hole hundreds of millions of light years away from Earth. Gravitational lensing occurs when a foreground galaxy magnifies the light of a more distant object.

In the foreground galaxy, they discovered an ultramassive black hole that was larger than 30 billion times the mass of our sun—a scale that astronomers rarely see.

This method, which involves simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times, was used to discover the first black hole. A different mass of black hole is used in each simulation, which changes how light gets to Earth.

“The vast majority of the largest black holes known to us are in an active state, in which matter drawn in close to the black hole warms up and emits energy in the form of light, X-rays, and other radiation.”

Dr. James Nightingale, Department of Physics, Durham University, 

At the point when the scientists remembered an ultramassive dark opening for one of their recreations, the way taken by the light from the distant cosmic system to arrive at Earth matched the way found in genuine pictures caught by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The findings were recently published in the Royal Astronomical Society journal Monthly Notices.

Credit: Durham University

A video shows how space experts utilized gravitational lensing to find a dark opening 30 billion times the mass of the sun in a universe 2 billion light years away. Credit: “This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our sun, is one of the biggest ever detected and on the upper limit of how large we believe black holes can theoretically become, so it is an extremely exciting discovery,” said lead author Dr. James Nightingale, Department of Physics, Durham University.

When the light of a background galaxy appears to be distorted by the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy, this phenomenon is known as a gravitational lens, allowing us to observe it multiple times.

Like a genuine focal point, this likewise amplifies the foundational cosmic system, permitting researchers to concentrate on it in upgraded detail.

“Most of the largest black holes that we know about are in an active state,” Dr. Nightingale stated, “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, the study of inactive black holes, which is currently impossible in faraway galaxies, is now possible thanks to gravitational lensing. With this method, we might be able to find many more black holes beyond our local universe and learn how these strange objects evolved further back in the history of the universe.

Credit: Durham University

The study, which also includes researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute, raises the tantalizing possibility that astronomers might be able to find a lot more ultramassive black holes that are still inactive than was previously thought, as well as learn how they got so big.

When Professor Alastair Edge, a fellow Durham University astronomer, was looking over the images from a galaxy survey in 2004, he noticed a huge arc of a gravitational lens.

Dr. Nightingale and his team were able to revisit this and investigate it further using extremely high-resolution Hubble telescope images and Durham University’s DiRAC COSMA8 supercomputer facilities 19 years later.

Credit: Durham University

The group trusts that this is the most vital phase in empowering a more profound investigation of the secrets of dark openings and that future enormous-scope telescopes will assist cosmologists in concentrating on significantly more far-off dark openings to study their size and scale.

More information: James Nightingale et al, Abell 1201: Detection of an Ultramassive Black Hole in a Strong Gravitational Lens, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2023). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad587

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