High-energy x-rays from five supermassive black holes clouded from direct view by dust and gas have been detected by scientists, using NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite observatory.
The finding supports the hypothesis that there are potentially millions more supermassive black holes existing in the Universe, which are hidden from view.
The scientists aimed NuSTAR at nine possible hidden supermassive black holes that were believed to be extremely active at the centre of galaxies, but where the full extent of this activity was potentially obscured from view.
High-energy x-rays found for five of the black holes substantiated that they had been hidden by dust and gas. The five were much brighter and more active than previously thought, as they quickly gorged themselves on surrounding material and emitted large amounts of radiation.
Lead author George Lansbury, a postgraduate student in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, at Durham University, said:
Thanks to NuSTAR for the first time we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their ‘buried’ state.
Although we have only detected five of these hidden supermassive black holes, when we extrapolate our results across the whole Universe then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see.“
G. B. Lansbury et al NuSTAR Reveals Extreme Absorption in z < 0.5 Type 2 Quasars arXiv:1506.05120 [astro-ph.HE]
Illustration: a supermassive black hole, actively feasting on its surroundings. The central black hole is hidden from direct view by a thick layer of encircling gas and dust. Credit: NASA/ESA