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.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

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.
  • JTT

    Since Hawking declared to the world that event horizons do not exist for black holes, the excitement will be in the news that is soon to follow. Black holes don’t destroy life but they are actually responsible for its creation. A galaxy can’t have life without a black hole. Matter or light enters a black hole and is not destroyed only broken down and can be ejected or reassembled after being seperated or dispursed into these imperceivable molecules. Conversely, it is this process that allows a black hole to reassemble and create the building blocks of life within its vortex with the particles that are not ejected. It is also this power that is responsible for the dark matter that allows the universe to continue to expand. Think of a black hole as a heart and dark matter as the blood of a galaxy. Hawking will say it more profoundly but the principle will be the same.

  • Jack Rolls

    I have a theory that the creation of our universe was the cause of a massive super nova that became a black hole in another universe. while it destroys nearby stars and planets it sucks the debris inside the black hole. this debris is now the start of a whole new universe (Big Bang Theory.) This could also be the reason for the big bang, maybe every Black Hole in our universe is the gateway to yet another universe (Multi-verse Theory). maybe outside of this space dark matter and energy are already there to begin with as a soup of hot gas. when a black hole is produced the singularity is sucking everything inside and blasting streams of radiation millions of miles into deep space, but what gets sucked into these holes is the building blocks of the entire universe.

  • Miroslav

    Can anyone explain the origin of the gas cloud around this ultramassive black hole? It is said that the black hole prevents a creation of stars in the vicinity by keeping the gas hot (according to astronomers the gas would normally cool, which would allow for a creation of stars). I sttruggle to understand this: how can the black hole keep the gas hot? Shouldn’t it suck it rather? And also what is the origin of that huge gas cloud – apparently measuring around million of light years.

  • Nora Lee

    The comments are wonderfully thoughtful. I just want to make a comment related to the technology and that is we have even more to look forward to. If companies like the Schott Glass Company that cares about astronomical development, continues to spend their resources in development, we will see even more of the universe in the future. This is an exciting time.

  • Ken D. Webber

    “Black Hole” is the term mathematicians use because their math doesn’t add up. They lack knowledge of higher geometry and plasma physics, which proves black holes do not exist. It is a MEME in faulty math.

  • Bimbo Cabidog

    What are we to get out of the distant affair? How does such phenomenon affect us in a relatively microscopic planet billions of light years away? Without the sort of consciousness given to man bringing it to light, recognizing it, and reflecting it in thought, could the supermassive force ever have an existent as it does? That is, with the quality to inspire awe.

  • Glenn Skinner

    Black holes are simply – a magnetic vortex that plays with the meteorite debris leaving the stony ones on the outside, crushing and separating the stony iron ones, and utilizing the metallic ones to generate more strength. The power comes from the center or cone point being the most magnetic what people see as black with no light is simply the most magnetic iron (darkest of all) causing an illusion of a hole. Picture the entire center (vortex/cone) being an all northern pole magnetic field and the outer being a southern pole , it will attract / suck in some and spin the others on the outside and all non-magnetic is on the outskirts. This is my theory

  • Chris Booth

    The word “weighs” is used more than once, and incorrectly. The correct way to say it would be “has the mass of”. That is a distinction made in grammar school-level astronomy books and middle school science classes (remember, one’s mass is the same on the moon, but one weighs one sixth? I read that in an astronomy book in first grade). It is absurd to say that the galactic cluster (black hole included) “weighs” _any_ multiple of a solar mass.

  • federico flores

    JJT.me párese in interesante tu comentario, sobre todo con el uso de la materia oscura,Yo tengo mi teoriza de la creación del universo y gracias a Stephan Hawking, uni los cabos que mi humilde apreciación requería, la materia oscura ocupaba el espacio que hoy conocemos como universo, de algún modo la materia oscura aisló un grupo de partículas y estas se transformaron en materia, cuando la materia oscura intento integrar esta materia a si misma nuevamente ya no era materia oscura, y esta nueva materia era ya muy basta y total mente diferente, al no poder integrarla la materia oscura creo materia densa oscura pa integrar eta nueva materia y por supuesto no lo logro así ocurrió el gran estallido o Big Bam. dividiendo la masa densa y creando los agujeros negros que vemos hoy día.

  • Ladybugged

    From an empathetic perspective, can you imagine the terror of the beings in the neighboring galaxies who were witnessing this event up close? What eventually happened, that can be predicted for this cluster of galaxies?
    There must be no escape?

  • Cliff Davis

    Black holes are caused by gravity, not magnetism. The gas surrounding the galaxy cluster is primordial hydrogen that existed since the Big Bang. The motion of the gas as it spirals into the Black Hole causes friction which generates enormous heat and other phenomena. Black Holes are only constructive in the way they control the evolution of galaxies. The super massive Black hole in our galaxy is currently not active. But, there are gas clouds orbiting close to it which could cause it to flare up soon. Hawking did not say event horizons do not exist. They exist around all black holes, but they are a theoretical limit and not a physical entity. If you were to pass through an event horizon you probably would not notice until you tried to get out.

  • Ryan

    How does this affect what we know about black holes and what are the effects? How do the shock waves prevent the gas from condensing and cooling?

  • K.T

    If the effects of a black hole 3.9 billion light years away are this apparent and this powerful, imagine the effects of a black hole only a few light years away! As it stands, it is extremely difficult to say for certain what a black hole leads to and the kind of effects it will have, but perhaps scientific advancements in the near future can create a better understand of these universal anomalies.

    It is reasonable to expect a black hole this massive to form somewhere where it will effect our solar system?

  • Keith Kan

    Referring to JTT’s response to this article, how would black holes be responsible for the creation of life? If gravitation near black holes is so enormous that not even light can escape it, then how is it possible for matter that has already passed the event horizon to not only reassemble, but also escape the black hole? Also, the horizontal compression and vertical stretching forces of spaghettification near black holes is so extreme that it would end life, not create it.

  • Ben Benson

    In response to Hawking’s recent statement, if the event horizon does not exist, then what is the area of the black hole that absorbs light and how does it do so? In addition, with regards to previous comments, the notion that a galaxy requires black holes to sustain life seems fundamentally flawed. Wouldn’t the extreme mass of a black hole make the development of life much more unlikely? It would seem that, as we have yet to find life outside of Earth, a major component of the development of living organisms is a delicate gravitational equilibrium that Earth just happens to have. If black holes can have the extreme effect on neighboring galaxies as exhibited in this post, it seems highly unlikely that a massive black hole in our galactic neighborhood would promote the development of life.

  • PHLF

    According to the article, how can shockwaves formed from galaxy-sized cavities prevent gas from cooling and condensing? Are the shockwaves really that powerful? What will cause the formation of trillions of stars following the explosion?

  • Jason C.

    Since a black hole’s infinite density results in a gravitational pull that even light cannot escape, a black hole should absorb its closest surroundings. If so, why has this (ironically white) black hole torn away distant parts of its surrounding gas cloud when the nearest parts appear intact? Could this black hole’s gravitational field be stronger in areas farther from its center?

  • Timothy

    @Keith Kan
    I think you are misinterpreting JTT’s response. Although many of his ideas are merely hypotheses, he is trying to state that the matter which is “ejected” from the black hole can be used as building blocks for life. From what I’ve heard, Hawking’s new statements/discoveries state that “event horizons” do not exist. Instead apparent horizons take their place. The difference between the two is that matter and light can escape after the black hole has dissolved.

    Despite gravity being the weakest of the four fundamental forces, that fact that it is still able to create such a beautifully destructive scene shows the majesty of the universe we live in.

  • Aldrich Estonilo

    In this article, it says this black hole is possibly the largest ever detected. Does this refer to its mass or size? If a black hole is a mass of infinite density, wouldn’t all black holes be the same size. This means the mass of this black hole is much larger than any black hole detected since.

    If this black hole were to cool, would it create a galaxy similar to ours? Is it possible this is the explanation of how life was created on earth?

  • Maxwell J W

    How large would this black hole have to be to have an gravitational effect on our solar system? In theory, a black hole would have to have more gravitational attraction with our solar system than our sun has on this solar system, correct? But considering that a black hole has infinite density it could break our attraction to the sun at a much closer distance than imagined. My question is how close can that distance be? In other words, where is that break even point where distance from our solar system will out weigh our attraction to the sun?

  • Timothy

    @Keith Kan
    Although many of JTT’s ideas are just hypotheses, I believe you are misinterpreting them. He is merely stating that the matter which is “ejected” from the black holes may be used as building blocks for life when he speaks of the creation of life. Also, on an unrelated note, gravity can create the building blocks of life. When a large star undergoes nuclear fusion, eventually, when the hydrogen is used up, it will fuse heavier elements together to keep itself alive and create heavier elements which are responsible for life, such as oxygen and carbon. When the star explodes, the remnants creates the planets and a new star, and the heavier elements create life. Now back onto black holes. Stephen Hawking’s new discovery/statement about black holes state that event horizons do not exist. Rather, they are replaced by apparent horizons. Apparent horizons, unlike event horizons, do not cause the destruction of matter, and when the black hole dissolves due to Hawking Radiation, the objects trapped can now escape. This can be more eloquently explained by a quote from Hawking. “The absence of event horizons mean that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infinity,”

  • A-a-ron

    Would this black hole be big enough to effect our system we live in? Would we really become spaghettified if we were to go into said hole? These are questions that boggle me about black holes and their existence. If a black hole were to pass by our solar system, would we be brought to a different dimension, according to theories? How long would it take for the black hole to reach us if the hole was on its way to our solar system?

  • Giovanni N.

    How much larger would this super black hole have to be, to have an effect on our Earth ? What size do these shock waves have to register on the richter scale to prevent the cooling and condensing process to occur ? If someone could respond to this and possibly give me more insight on this, that would be great.

  • I.O.

    What levels of radiation are found in holes this large. Many large stars emit high level of radiation that are the same size as the radiation from the black hole and the process of nuclear reactions has also produced radiation. Also, could the radiation possibly have a chance of reaching earth and affecting our enviroment. If so what would be the effects.

  • Rohit Nair

    I am not sure if I am understanding your question at hand wrongly, but I find it preposterous to imagine life on/in a black hole. Life requiring some form of DNA would not be possible, because any nucleotides would be denatured by the radiation near a black hole let alone on one. The forces at play would be too harsh for any elements to form bonds with one another. For all you know there might be a area around the black hole where atoms break apart and becomes a sea of sub atomic particles or smaller.

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