Black Holes Exhale Enormous Gas Cloud
This story was updated at 1:05 pm EDT.
A giant cloud of superheated gas 6 million light years wide might be formed by the collective sigh of several supermassive black holes, scientists say.
The plasma cloud, detailed in April 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal, might be the source of mysterious cosmic rays that permeate our universe.
"One of the most exciting aspects of the discovery is the new questions it poses," said study leader Philipp Kronberg of Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico. "For example, what kind of mechanism could create a cloud of such enormous dimensions that does not coincide with any single galaxy or galaxy cluster? Is that same mechanism connected to the mysterious source of ultra high energy cosmic rays that come from beyond our galaxy?"
The plasma cloud is located about 300 million light years away near the Coma Cluster and is spread across a vast region of space thought to contain several galaxies with supermassive black holes, or active galactic nuclei (AGN), embedded at their centers.
"One reasonable interpretation is that the cloud represents the aggregate release of magnetic and cosmic ray energy from this grouping of galaxies, which is unusually concentrated," Kronberg told SPACE.com.
The cloud might be evidence that AGNs convert and transfer their enormous gravitational prowess, by a yet-unknown process, into magnetic fields and cosmic rays that spread across the universe.
The new finding could also help explain the unwanted and confusing "noise" scientists observe in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), Kronberg said. The CMB is a ubiquitous radiation in the universe that is said to be a remnant of the Big Bang.
The plasma cloud was discovered using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in British Columbia.
*Note: An erroneous press release incorrectly reported the plasma cloud as being 600 million light years wide, which would have made it the biggest known object in the universe.
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