Monster black hole ‘feeding frenzy’ hides hundreds of galaxies in new images

A bright quasar, PKS1353-341, shining from a hidden cluster in this pair of images — the links in the X-ray light, and the right to be in visible light.

(Taweewat Somboonpanyakul)

Scientists have discovered hundreds of galaxies hiding in plain sight, surrounded by the light that is emitted by a highly active supermassive black hole. The galaxies and the amazing black hole can be seen in a new image released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The black hole, a type known as a quasar, is 2.4 billion light years from Earth and is so bright that astronomers have assumed it was only in the area of the space for decades, according to a statement from MIT. But as MIT researchers reported on Aug. 16 in the Astrophysical Journal, the quasar is in fact in the centre of a cluster. ( reported to the study when it was first accepted in the magazine and published on

A cluster is a collection of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. Often, astronomers expect clusters to look “soft” and give a very diffuse signal in the X-ray band, according to the statement. Quasars and black holes, but tend to give brighter, point-like signals. [Huge Cluster Blooms in beautiful New Hubble Photo]

“The images are all points, or fluffs, the fluffs are these huge million light-years away balls of hot gas, that we call clusters, and the points are black holes that are accreting gas and glowing as this gas spirals in,” Michael McDonald, a physicist at MIT and co-author on the new work, said in the statement. The researchers speculate that the quasar in the center of this cluster is the burning of special light, because it is on a “feeding frenzy.” Huge pieces of the case fall into the quasar from the disk of material surrounding it and allowing the black hole to emit large amounts of energy. The team estimated that the quasar is 46 billion times brighter than our sun.

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The immense light that is produced by this feeding frenzy is responsible for the hiding of the galaxies in the environment of the quasar, but the researchers believe that the overshadowing is temporary. Ultimately, they expect that the black hole appearance to fade and to start looking if they expect that other cluster galaxies to look.

“This could be a blip that we happen to see,” McDonald said. “In a million years, this would be seen as a diffuse fuzzball.”

McDonald and his team for the first time discovered a hidden cluster in 2012, and the mystery as to why they initially missed led to a search for similar objects. “We started asking ourselves why we had not before, because it is very extreme in his attributes, and very bright,” McDonald says. “It is because we had the preconception of what a cluster should look like. And this is not in conformity to his, so we missed it.”

In response, scientists have set up a survey called CHiPS (Clusters Hiding in Plain Sight) reevaluation of X-ray images that are taken earlier. So far, 90 percent of the data they have reviewed, proved to be clusters, McDonald said in the statement. “But the nice thing is, the small number of the things that we see are a kind of rule-breakers,” he said.

The new report published the first results of the CHiPS survey, which has until now only confirmed the existence of a hidden cluster. But the scientists expect that in the future more and in order to make use of the clusters to learn more about the universe’s expansion.

“Take for example the Titanic,” McDonald said. “If you know where the two largest pieces landed, you could assign each of them backwards to see where the ship hit the iceberg. In the same way, if you know where all the clusters are in the universe, that the largest pieces in the universe, and how big they are, and you have some data about what the universe looked like in the beginning, which we know from the Big Bang, then you could map out how the universe expanded.”

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