In a distant galaxy, many eons ago, a supermassive black hole known as PDS 456 belched out an immense amount of cosmic wind. The discharge was so intense that it might change the future of the entire galaxy, transforming it into calmer place, similar to our own Milky Way.
NASA and its European counterpart, the ESA, observed the black hole burp, revealed through X-ray light emitted from over 2 billion light years away. PDS 456 is easier to watch than most black holes. First, it’s a quasar — a very bright, highly active black hole. Second, at only 2 billion light years away, it’s relatively close in terms of galactic distance.
NASA said in a statement that the black hole’s cosmic winds “carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.”
Previous research on black holes showed that they did eject cosmic winds as a byproduct of feeding on the surrounding matter, but the PDS 456 discovery went further, revealing the size, shape, and speed of the winds.
Emanuele Nardini from Keele University in Staffordshire, England, explained what the research meant.
“It tells us that the shape of the wind is not just a narrow beam pointed in our direction. It is really a wind that is flowing in every direction away from the black hole. With a spherical wind, the amount of mass it carries out is much larger than just a narrow beam.”
The cosmic wind was created when protons of light emitted by the black hole push on the surrounding gas, apparently fast enough to escape from the gravity of the black hole itself.
So what does the black hole belch mean for its surrounding galaxy?
The first thing that will likely happen, according to Space, is all of the black hole’s food — mostly gas and dust — will be pushed away. As PDS456 starves, it will grow dimmer and eventually become less active or “quiescent.”
It also means other dust and gases will be pushed away, slowing down the rate in which new stars are born.
Watching the process play out for PDS456 gives researchers a chance to look at the way things were about 10 billion years ago, when supermassive black holes and their raging winds were more common. Nardini says that the belch might have been a frequent occurrence in the universe, one that explains why it’s currently a calmer, less windy place.
“We know that in almost every galaxy, a supermassive black hole resides in the center. But, most of the galaxies we see today are quiescent, they are not active in any way. The fact that galaxies today are quiescent — we have to find an explanation for that in something that happened a long time ago.”
The most notable quiescent black hole for humanity is the one at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Was there a mighty belch from the center of the galaxy that forever changed its fate, becoming a quieter place for humanity to exist?
[Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]