Black hole breakthrough: Mysterious region of space could solve universe mystery

Black hole appears to eat neutron stars ‘like Pac-Man’

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Supermassive are found in virtually every corner of the universe, sat at the centre of most galaxies. Sagittarius A* is our nearest black hole behemoth, found about 26,000 light-years away at the heart of the Milky Way. Astronomers are fairly confident these black holes, which are millions to billions of times heavier than our Sun, formed early on after the Big Bang.

Despite everything we know about them, these massive wells of gravity are still shrouded in mystery.

Scientists are unsure how they came into being and why they are so different to stellar black holes, which only weigh 10 to 24 times more than the Sun.

But recent advances in the field of radio telescope development could put us one step closer to solving this mystery.

And it all comes down to the discovery of so-called direct collapse black holes (DCBH).

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Supermassive black hole in deep space

Astronomers are trying to solve the mystery of supermassive black holes (Image: GETTY)

NASA chart explaining black holes

Black holes are split between supermassive, stellar and the theoretical intermediate class (Image: NASA)

Previous theories about the creation of supermassive black holes suggested giant stars born early on in the universe would collapse into a large black hole, before swelling in mass by consuming stellar gasses and colliding with other black holes.

Computer simulations suggest this process is too drawn out and cannot account for black holes that have been around for as long as 11 billion years – nearly as old as the universe itself.

An alternative theory suggests supermassive black holes were simply born straight off the bat at the centre of proto-galactic discs.

As the stellar material cooled, it would have collapsed under its own weight and quickly grow to the supermassive scale.

Scientists are yet to find direct evidence to support the direct collapse black hole theory – but they have a fairly good idea of what to look out for.

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Black holes are incredibly hard to detect since they trap all light that falls past their event horizon.

Astronomers can, however, detect the powerful radiation signatures associated with the stellar material circling the black hole drain.

In the case of supermassive black holes, these are giant rings of superheated material that shoot out relativistic jets from the black hole’s poles – streams of scorching plasma that fire off into .

These jets of plasma happen to have a distinct radio signature that astronomers can detect and trace back to a black hole.

In the case of direct collapse black holes, astronomers expect to find similar jets.

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Black hole releasing jets of plasm

Black holes with accretion disks release powerful jets of plasma (Image: GETTY)

Supermassive black hole in M87

The shadow of the supermassive black hole seen at the centre of galaxy M87 (Image: GETTY)

These jets, however, would be much denser and their signals would be redshifted.

Considering supermassive black holes are so ancient, the ongoing expansion of the universe would quite literally stretch out the jets towards the red end of the light spectrum.

American astronomer Edwin Hubble famously uncovered this process in 1929 when he observed that almost all galaxies appear to be moving away from us – direct evidence of the universe constantly expanding.

Now that scientists have a good idea of what to look out for, future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could hone in on these direct collapse black holes.

The NASA telescope, which is set to succeed the Hubble Telescope, is expected to launch later this year, although the project has already been plagued by years of delays.

According to a report in Universe Today, scientists may also have some luck finding these redshifted jets using the NgVLA or Next-generation Very Large Array.

The proposed facility is a project under development by the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

Another proposed facility built in Australia and South Africa, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) may also help crack this cosmic mystery.

According to a study published in 2019, scientists have theoretically proven the direct collapse theory.

Now, they need to get their hands on instruments that can detect them.

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