Researchers discover clue as to why a black hole’s mass is lighter than expected

// November 28th, 2012 // Astronomy and Space News

Illustration of quasar surround galaxy central black hole

If you have ever wondered why, against conventional logic, black holes are so “light”, researchers at Virginia Tech may be about to quench your thirst for an answer. Computer models of the early universe fall fairly close to home except for one thing – the ratio of the mass of black holes in the center of the galaxies relative to the mass in the remainder of the galaxy is way off.  The mass simulated in black holes is much lighter than expected and scientists have yet to explain where, and how, the missing mass has snuck off.  Their best guess to date was that the black holes were somehow expelling much of the mass that should have fallen into the central black hole.  Now Virginia Tech researchers have spotted a quasar (a bright, galactic nucleus that surrounds the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole) that has spit out a tremendous amount of matter with two trillion times the energy the sun emits (that’s one 100 times as much energy as the entire Milky Way).

According to Scientific American:

“[Virginia Tech researchers] led a team that observed a quasar, called SDSS J1106+1939, which dates back to when the universe was only 3 billion years old (the universe is now about 13.7 billion years of age). The researchers used an instrument called a spectrometer, [which] revealed a giant cloud of hot, ionized gas that was blasted away from the galaxy at nearly 5,000 miles per second (8,000 kilometers per second). The expelled gas was mostly hydrogen with some helium and traces of other elements such as carbon. This eruption is throwing up some 400 times the mass of the sun every year, and such events last for anywhere from 10 million to 100 million years. That, [researchers] said, could be the key to why galaxies are generally less massive than they should be, and why the black holes at their centers are the sizes that they are.”

Researchers are continuing to look for additional evidence in other black holes in order to determine if this incident was a rare occurrence or a natural recurring process that occurs more frequently.

Sources: Wikipedia, Scientific American, Space.com

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