They are black as night, and the only light that passes through is the fierce blackness that can engulf anything that crosses their path. The first time light has been detected behind a black hole was now captured by astronomers.
The flares were seen coming from a black hole located in the center of another galaxy, some 800 million light-years away. researchers discovered the flares deep within the universe. This new detection may change the way we think about the biggest villains in the universe that can suck up planets and stars despite gravitational forces.
Researchers reported observing X-ray flares in the journal Nature that originated from near the supermassive black hole and its accretion disk. Black holes’ gravitational fields are already known to distort and redirect light emitted by their disks.
Finding light behind a black hole
Researchers discovered the light by chance as they studied the feature known as the corona. By bringing materials into a supermassive black hole, it is possible to create a form of X-Ray light that can be used to map and characterize those materials.
An examination of the X-ray flares revealed small flashes of photons consistent with the return of light from behind the black hole. Analysis of the X-ray flares confirmed that there were short flashes of light from behind the black hole.
These photons were identified according to their energy shifts. Researchers in the paper noted that the photons were reverberating off the far side of the disk and were magnified by the gravitational field around the black hole.”
Einstein’s theory of relativity is confirmed by the detection of the bright flare around the black hole. Although it has long been known that any light that goes into the black hole doesn’t come out and cannot be seen again, astrophysicists have a theory stating that the light became bendable when it intersected with the black hole’s magnetic field.
Black holes: what are they?
Death of a star leads to the creation of a black hole, which is caused by the intense gravitational field that squeezes matter into the small space under it, trapping the light of the deceased star. Since matter is crammed into such a small space, gravity is extremely strong. A black hole is invisible to the human eye since no light can escape it. It is impossible to see them.
Earlier this year, researchers detected gravitational waves created when two neutron stars collided with black holes. These waves first came to light over 100 years ago when Albert Einstein discovered them.
Observations will be larger and more detailed on these massive objects when the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA), an X-ray observatory being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), becomes operational and the technology is improved.
Cosmic beasts: their anatomy
It is not even possible for light to escape their grasp because of their enormous gravitational pull.
The accretion disk, which is a spiral of gas and dust surrounding these cosmic beasts, spirals towards oblivion.
Black holes emit bright X-ray flares when material is sucked into them. A plume of super-heated particles called corona is released as the material gets sucked into them.
“Supermassive black holes are objects of extreme density up to billions of times more massive than our own sun,” said Michael Cowley, an astrophysicist at the Queensland University of Technology, who was not involved in the study.
“When matter falls into these black holes, huge amounts of energy is released, evidence of which is observed on scales far beyond the galaxy itself.”
As the black hole spins, its giant magnetic field gets entangled in its spin, generating the X-ray flares.
Dr. Wilkins said, “this magnetic field getting tied up and then snapping close to the black hole heats everything around it and produces these high energy electrons, that then go on to produce the X-rays”.
Discovering hidden light
The X-ray flares were being produced by the supermassive black hole at the heart of a galaxy called I Zwicky 1 and were being studied by Dr Wilkins and his team.
With NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array and European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescope, they spotted the bright white X-ray flashes expected as part of the process, but something else was happening as well.
X-ray bursts were measured with a different wave length from those detected by the larger ones, which indicated the fainter bursts came from behind the black hole and bounced off its accretion disk.
Black holes generate this phenomenon when some X-rays manage to slip past their massive gravitational pull, only to get sucked back in by them.
The black hole’s gravitational pull bends some emitted X-rays around the accretion disk.
‘”Echos” from the other side were found to be the result of this phenomenon, and this allowed Wilkins and his team to detect them.
For the past few years, Dr Wilkins has been formulating theoretical predictions about how these echoes are perceived.
Supermassive black holes have been uncovered in a new discovery
The discovery could also assist researchers who want to understand supermassive black holes, said Cowley, in addition to proving Einstein’s theory of relativity once again.
“Their result provides further support for Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which continues to hold up well after more than 100 years since publication,” Dr Cowley said.
“Observations such as these provide us more insight into the nature of supermassive black holes, along with how they can generate such awesome amounts of power.”
Especially exciting is to see it happening around a black hole, astrophysicist Tamara Davis from the University of Queensland said. We’ve seen starlight bent by gravity around the sun during eclipses, but bending starlight around a black hole is different.
Professor Davis, who wasn’t involved in the research, commended the researchers as brilliant for having successfully interpreted the flares they have seen as light lapped by the black hole.
Light has bent around a black hole, and that is what makes this observation so exciting.
“It tells us exactly what the material around the black hole is doing in a way that conventional telescopes would never be able to.”