Picture: Giant Black Hole Blasting Holes in Surrounding Galaxy Cluster

The black hole (white) sits at the center of the galaxy RX J1532. X-ray image (yellow) courtesy NASA/CXC/Stanford/J. Hlavacek-Larrondo et al. Optical image (purple) courtesy NASA/ESA/STScI/M. Postman & CLASH team

A giant, supermassive black hole—likely the largest ever detected—is flexing its immense power in the heart of a distant galaxy cluster 3.9 billion light-years from Earth.

A new composite image from the Hubble and Chandra X-ray Space Telescopes shows the galaxy-size voids this “ultramassive” black hole is tearing in the gas cloud surrounding it.

Its influence is so great that supersonic jets from the black hole appear to be stripping its surroundings of hot gas, leaving behind giant empty spaces (shown as black spots amid the purple), each as large as our Milky Way galaxy at some 100,000 light-years across. (See National Geographic’s black hole pictures.)

The power displayed by this one object is almost ten times greater than that required to create the well-known cavities seen in the Perseus galaxy cluster (below).

THe famed flaming skull formation in the Perseus Galaxy Cluster is formed by jets from black holes carving out large cavities- which appear in this Chandra x-ray image as the eyes, nose and mouth features. Credit: A. Fabian (IoA Cambridge) et al., NASA
Jets from a black hole created the eyes, nose, and mouth of this eerie flaming skull in the Perseus galaxy cluster. Image courtesy Fabian (IoA Cambridge) et al., NASA

The same extreme phenomena has been spied elsewhere in the cosmos—but never on such a large scale, according to NASA.

Astronomers first spied this record-breaking galaxy cluster—which weighs about a quadrillion, or a thousand trillion, times the mass of our sun—thanks to how brightly it glowed in x-ray images. That glow is seen here in the Chandra/Hubble composite image up top as a purple cloud.

The black hole itself—which weighs as much as ten billion of our suns—is thought to lie at the heart of a giant elliptical galaxy at the center of the cluster, dubbed RX J1532.

Shockwaves from the formation of the galaxy-size cavities prevent the gas from condensing and cooling to form trillions of new stars.

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Wildlife

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.