Scientists have been observing a distant galaxy cluster known as the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, about 390 million light-years from Earth. Through their observations, experts discovered the powerful explosion which was five times more powerful than the previous record holder.
What caused the bang is still something of a mystery, but experts know it came from a supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy cluster.
The blast was so powerful that it punched a hole in the cluster’s plasma – the super-hot gas surrounding the black hole.
Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said: “We’ve seen outbursts in the centres of galaxies before but this one is really, really massive. And we don’t know why it’s so big.
“But it happened very slowly—like an explosion in slow motion that took place over hundreds of millions of years.
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The explosion came in a distant galaxy cluster known as the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster
“We made this discovery with Phase 1 of the MWA, when the telescope had 2048 antennas pointed towards the sky.
“We’re soon going to be gathering observations with 4096 antennas, which should be ten times more sensitive. I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Lead author of the study Dr Simona Giacintucci, from the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States, compared the explosion to the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens which ripped off the top of the mountain.
She said: “The difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster’s hot gas.”
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The explosion came from a black hole
When the explosion was first discovered, experts were initially sceptical as it seemed too big to be possible.
However, by using radio telescopes the scientists were able to corroborate their data.
Professor Johnston-Hollitt said: “People were sceptical because of the size of outburst. But it really is that. The Universe is a weird place.
“It’s a bit like archaeology. We’ve been given the tools to dig deeper with low frequency radio telescopes so we should be able to find more outbursts like this now.
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“As is often the case in astrophysics we really need multiwavelength observations to truly understand the physical processes at work.
“Having the combined information from X-ray and radio telescopes has revealed this extraordinary source, but more data will be needed to answer the many remaining questions this object poses.”
Co-author Dr Maxim Markevitch, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said: “The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove.
“This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here.”