An entirely new type of black hole — one that’s ‘super-powered’, and highly compact — was recently discovered by an international team of astronomers. This first of its kind black hole has been dubbed MQ1 by those involved.
The researchers — who had been studying the galaxy known as M83 — came across the black hole quite by chance, but it’s a significant finding. Previously researchers had discovered other compact objects roughly as powerful as MQ1, but hadn’t been able to determine the nature or size of the black hole within them. That’s now changed.
The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research provides more:
The team observed the MQ1 system with multiple telescopes and discovered that it is a standard-sized small black hole, rather than a slightly bigger version that was theorised to account for all its power.
Curtin University senior research fellow Dr Roberto Soria, who is part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and led the team investigating MQ1, said it was important to understand how stars were formed, how they evolved and how they died, within a spiral shaped galaxy like M83.
“MQ1 is classed as a microquasar — a black hole surrounded by a bubble of hot gas, which is heated by two jets just outside the black hole, powerfully shooting out energy in opposite directions, acting like cosmic sandblasters pushing out on the surrounding gas,” Dr Soria stated.
“The significance of the huge jet power measured for MQ1 goes beyond this particular galaxy: it helps astronomers understand and quantify the strong effect that black hole jets have on the surrounding gas, which gets heated and swept away.
“This must have been a significant factor in the early stages of galaxy evolution, 12 billion years ago, because we have evidence that powerful black holes like MQ1, which are rare today, were much more common at the time.”
“By studying microquasars such as MQ1, we get a glimpse of how the early universe evolved, how fast quasars grew and how much energy black holes provided to their environment.”
For some comparison, note the fact that the most powerful microquasar in our galaxy (SS433), is roughly 10 times less powerful than MQ1 is.
While the black hole in MQ1 is “only” around 100 kilometers wide, the whole MQ1 structure is considerably larger — larger than the whole of our Solar System. The jets that extend around it go for, roughly, 20 light years in every direction.
“Black holes vary in size and are classed as either stellar mass (less than about 70 times the mass of our Sun) or supermassive (millions of times the mass of our Sun, like the giant black hole that is located in the middle of the Milky Way). MQ1 is a stellar mass black hole and was likely formed when a star died, collapsing to leave behind a compact mass.”
The new discovery of is just one of the findings from the recent large-scale and comprehensive review of the M83 galaxy — located about 15 million light years away from Earth.
Image Credit: M83 – NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (WFC3/UVIS, STScI-PRC14-04a).MQ1 inset – W. P. Blair (Johns Hopkins University) & R. Soria (ICRAR-Curtin)