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Boom! Scientists spot the biggest known explosion in the universe

Evidence for the biggest explosion seen in the universe comes from a combination of X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Europe’s XMM-Newton space telescope, and the Murchison Widefield Array and Giant Metrewave Telescope, as shown here. The eruption is generated by a black hole located in the cluster's central galaxy, which has blasted out jets and carved a large cavity in the surrounding hot gas. Researchers estimate this explosion released five times more energy than the previous record holder and hundreds of thousands of times more than a typical galaxy cluster.
Evidence for the biggest explosion seen in the universe comes from a combination of X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Europe’s XMM-Newton space telescope, and the Murchison Widefield Array and Giant Metrewave Telescope, as shown here. The eruption is generated by a black hole located in the cluster's central galaxy, which has blasted out jets and carved a large cavity in the surrounding hot gas. Researchers estimate this explosion released five times more energy than the previous record holder and hundreds of thousands of times more than a typical galaxy cluster.
(Image: © X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/NRL/S. Giacintucci, et al., XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF)

Astronomers have spotted a cosmic blast that dwarfs all others.

A gargantuan explosion tore through the heart of a distant galaxy cluster, releasing about five times more energy than the previous record holder, a new study reports.

"In some ways, this blast is similar to how the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 ripped off the top of the mountain," study lead author Simona Giacintucci, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "A key difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster's hot gas."

Related: Our expanding universe: Age, history and other facts

The explosion occurred in the Ophiuchus cluster, which lies about 390 million light-years from Earth. Giacintucci and her colleagues think the source was a supermassive black hole in one of the cluster's constituent galaxies — specifically, jets of radiation and material spewing from the light-gobbling monster, which are powered by inflowing gas and dust.

The possibility of an incredibly powerful Ophiuchus explosion was first raised in 2016 in a study led by Norbert Werner, which examined images captured by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Werner and his colleagues reported a strangely curved edge in the cluster, which could be part of the wall of a cavity formed by a blast. And what a blast it would be: The scientists calculated that it would take about 5 times 10^54 joules of energy to create such a cavity. (For perspective, humanity's total global energy consumption each year is about 6 times 10^20 joules.)

But the 2016 study didn't establish that an explosion actually was responsible for that curved edge. Giacintucci and her colleagues just made that determination, after analyzing additional X-ray data from Chandra and Europe's XMM-Newton space telescope, as well as radio information gathered by the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India.

The combined data show that the curved edge is indeed part of a cavity wall, because it borders an area rich in radio emission. That emission likely resulted when the black hole's outburst accelerated electrons to nearly the speed of light, the researchers said.

"The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove," study co-author Maxim Markevitch, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the same statement. "This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here."

The energy released by the Ophiuchus blast is hundreds of thousands of times greater than explosions typically seen in galaxy clusters, the researchers said. And it's about five times higher than the previous record holder, an eruption in the cluster MS 0735.6+7421.

The Ophiuchus fireworks appear to be over, by the way; the radio data show no evidence for ongoing jet activity, the scientists said.

The Chandra data reveal just one region of radio emission. That's a bit odd, because black-hole jets usually go off in two different directions. It's possible that the jet-feeding gas on the other side — the one opposite the detected cavity — was less abundant and the radio emission there dissipated more quickly as a result, the researchers said.

The new study was published in the Feb. 27 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. You can read a preprint of the paper for free via arXiv.org. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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  • Jem
    That is an insanely big explosion 10^54 joules is an insane number too haha :)
    Reply
  • Stephen J. Bauer
    As science fiction tends to portend the worst case scenarios of probable non-fiction events, it may help us to consider the make up and mechanism of a black hole. Where the event horizon of a black hole is division between ordinary matter and dark matter, there is an abundance of anti-matter generated upon this division. Recent observations indicate black holes and neutron stars produce vast amounts of positron-electron plasma via the jets. Subsequently, as promoted in the science fiction novel, 'Shadow-Forge Revelations', a near 'Selfish Biocosmic' occurrence is caused by creating a path through the event horizon, allowing the immixture of anti-matter with dark matter.

    Note: 'Selfish Biocosm' is a belief system wherein the anthropic qualities that our universe exhibits can be explained as incidental consequences of an enormously lengthy cosmic replication cycle in which our cosmos duplicates itself and propagates a new universe.

    Note: Antimatter-matter annihilations have the potential to release a huge amount of energy. A gram of antimatter could produce an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb. However, there is no such research or estimation on the potential amount of energy possible with large amounts of pure dark matter.

    According to theory of the big bang, matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts. And when matter and antimatter meet, they should annihilate each other, leaving nothing but energy behind. So in principle, none of us should exist. And while a cosmological model based on a gravitational plasma of matter and antimatter has been discussed, the anti-gravitational interaction of matter and antimatter should lead to the segregation and expansion of a more plasma based universe. However, this theory does not take into account the properties of dark matter and supermassive black holes. Still, while the immixture of anti-matter with dark matter and/or ordinary matter could destabilize a black hole, it is expected that a black hole should recover from such an event due to the force of its gravitational well.

    In this novel make over of such a hypothetical possibility, the ramifications proposed are that this event would overwrite the current universe in favor of its new universe. #shadowforgerevelations
    Reply
  • Jay Millman
    I just did the briefest of calculations and I get the following: The sun apparently puts out 3.8x 10^26 joules of energy per second. Multiply by 3600 x 24 x 365 and you get 1.2 x 10^34 I think. Still way to small to be comparable, but that's the sun's output in a year. Let's say there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. So we're at 2.4 x 10^43. Still way too small to be comparable. Let's go with 100,000 galaxies, and instead of 1 year let's go with 1 million years. Now we are at 2.4 x 10^54. Now we are comparable. So this explosion they believe had the same energy output as 1 million years of output of 100,000 galaxies. Gotta say, that stretches the limits of believability.
    Reply
  • rod
    Jay Millman said:
    I just did the briefest of calculations and I get the following: The sun apparently puts out 3.8x 10^26 joules of energy per second. Multiply by 3600 x 24 x 365 and you get 1.2 x 10^34 I think. Still way to small to be comparable, but that's the sun's output in a year. Let's say there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. So we're at 2.4 x 10^43. Still way too small to be comparable. Let's go with 100,000 galaxies, and instead of 1 year let's go with 1 million years. Now we are at 2.4 x 10^54. Now we are comparable. So this explosion they believe had the same energy output as 1 million years of output of 100,000 galaxies. Gotta say, that stretches the limits of believability.

    FYI, I see different reports on this explosion out now. "We've seen outbursts in the centres of galaxies before but this one is really, really massive," she said. "And we don't know why it's so big. "But it happened very slowly—like an explosion in slow motion that took place over hundreds of millions of years." 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.", Astronomers detect biggest explosion in the history of the Universe
    This report indicates the *boom*, took place over *hundreds of millions of years*, *very slowly*. Just how long this explosion lasted and how much energy released initially, and over its lifetime, needs more work I feel and better, clearer reporting. The space.com report had the link to the arXiv.org preprint, and the abstract stated "It thus appears to be a very aged fossil of the most powerful AGN outburst seen in any galaxy cluster (pV ∼ 5×10^61 erg for this cavity). There is no apparent diametrically opposite counterpart either in X-ray or in the radio. It may have aged out of the observable radio band because of the cluster asymmetry. At present, the central AGN exhibits only a weak radio source, so it should have been much more powerful in the past to have produced such a bubble.", https://arxiv.org/pdf/2002.01291.pdf
    When I read astronomy articles like this, I ponder how the BB put the Earth here where we do not explode too :)
    Reply
  • rj.rivero
    All numbers of the Universe seems to be kind of insane........... with the exception of the references to the fine adjustment of the universe, in wich we are refered.
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    rj.rivero said:
    All numbers of the Universe seems to be kind of insane........... with the exception of the references to the fine adjustment of the universe, in wich we are refered.

    It may not be that the Universe is that big it is just that we are that small.
    Reply
  • magnoflux
    Jem said:
    That is an insanely big explosion 10^54 joules is an insane number too haha :)
    The active galactic nucleus AGN is in fact a magnetic hub at the centre of all galaxies and called a super massive black hole. It can be destabilized which will result in an emission of energy at right angles to the spin of the stars rotating the hub caused by the magnoflux spin effect. Normally, if a solar system of matter and antimatter were to fall into the hub it would be torn apart and the energy beamed out at right angles in both up and down directions but if a star were to loose its planetary matter system then only the antimatter star will fall into the magnetic hub thus the energy beam would be mostly in a single direction as in this Ophiuchus case.
    See magnoflux3d universe images https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk01jYWjfoTZc8fM9S0qyOnA0_yS2qg:1583142505080&q=magnoflux3d+images&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUoJO1wfvnAhXr73MBHTIYCBIQ7Al6BAgIEBk&biw=1366&bih=616#imgrc=UXFgHKgVdNTsrM
    Reply
  • Gyyf
    Typical supernova releases ~10^44 joules, so it is about 5*10^10 supernovas. If the total time of "explosion" would be e.q. 200 million years it would be exactly 250 supernova kind of explosions / year. Kinda massive black hole eating a lot of stuff :-)
    Reply
  • Jem
    that black hole has a huge stomach 😂😂
    Reply
  • voidpotentialenergy
    Maybe the explosion has nothing to do with that galaxy and what we are seeing is the big bang of a neighbor universe, just inline with that galaxy.
    Then the giant energy amount seems less crazy to explain
    Reply