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Astronomers Detect Biggest Explosion in the History of the Universe

Posted by on February 28, 2020 in Earth & Space, Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments

This extremely powerful eruption occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, which is located about 390 million light-years from Earth. Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter, and hot gas. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Naval Research Lab/Giacintucci, S.; XMM:ESA/XMM; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRTN; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

By International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research | Phys.org

Scientists studying a distant galaxy cluster have discovered the biggest explosion seen in the Universe since the Big Bang.


The blast came from a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years away.

It released five times more energy than the previous record holder.

Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said the event was extraordinarily energetic.

“We've seen outbursts in the centers 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 , 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.

Lead author of the study Dr. Simona Giacintucci, from the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States, said the blast was similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which ripped the top off the mountain.

“The difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way  in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster's hot gas,” she said.

Professor Johnston-Hollitt said the cavity in the cluster plasma had been seen previously with X-ray telescopes.

But scientists initially dismissed the idea that it could have been caused by an energetic outburst, because it would have been too big.

Tile 107, or “the Outlier” as it is known, is one of 256 tiles of the MWA, located 1.5km from the core of the telescope. Lighting the tile and the ancient landscape is the Moon. Credit: Pete Wheeler, ICRAR. 

“People were skeptical because of the size of outbursts,” she said. “But it really is that. The Universe is a weird place.”

The researchers only realized what they had discovered when they looked at the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster with .

“The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove,” said co-author Dr. Maxim Markevitch, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here.”

The discovery was made using four telescopes; NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India.

Professor Johnston-Hollitt, who is the director of the MWA and an expert in galaxy clusters, likened the finding of discovering the first dinosaur bones.

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