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By Daniel Mediavilla
If you think of a black hole, with that gravitational pull that does not even let light escape, you are likely to imagine a large dark hole in the universe surrounded by nothing. However, when viewed from afar, the effect is very different. Quasars, the brightest objects in the universe, are precisely supermassive black holes that inhabit the interior of large galaxies. The power of these gravitational monsters draws entire solar systems into their jaws, but also accelerates much of the matter around them that shoots out at near-light speeds. These extremely luminous jets of particles have been observed in the early universe, when it was a few hundred million years old, and astronomers suspect that they played an important role in driving galactic formation.
Galaxies such as the Milky Way harbor supermassive black holes that have already lost the destructive and creative momentum of an ancient stage in which they behaved like a quasar. In the search for appeased heirs to those leviathans that populated the cosmos 13 billion years ago, researchers have found specimens with a mass up to 10 billion times that of the Sun in clusters of galaxies such as the Great Wall, which include clusters such as the one in Eat or Leo's. This week, an international team of scientists led by Jens Thomas, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching (Germany), published in the journal Nature the study of a black hole with 17,000 million times the mass of the Sun in NGC 1600 , a relatively isolated elliptical galaxy 200 million light years from Earth. Astronomers did not expect to find these large holes in such uncrowded places and it is possible that the find indicates that they are more frequent than previously believed.
The dimensions of the influence of this cosmic machine are difficult to imagine. Scientists have calculated that its event horizon, the point around the black hole from which escape is no longer possible, is 335 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. This size, they explain, makes the NGC black hole 1600 in one of the best candidates to be observed by the Event Horizon Telescope project after Sagittarius A, the hole that occupies the center of our own galaxy. This initiative, which will be launched in the next decade, aims to combine the observing capabilities of radio telescopes from around the world to get closer than ever to the observable region of black holes.
Work like the one published today in Nature seeks to reconstruct the lineage of super black holes, the objects that lit up quasars when the universe was still in its infancy and now sleep at the center of galaxies. In the history of the evolution of these objects is also the origin of ours.