A black hole is a region of space and time exhibiting gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing can escape, not even light. These cosmic phenomena are said to form when massive stars collapse at the end of their life cycle, falling into themselves and engulfing other black holes to form what is known as a supermassive black hole. Scientists were left slightly hot under the collar when they got a front-row ticket to see this event unfold more than a decade ago, thanks to one of NASA telescopes.
It was revealed during YouTube series “Monster black hole” how researchers around the world were put on high alert.
The narrator revealed: “March 29, 2008, astronomers around the world receive an alert sent from an orbiting observatory called Swift.
“It had recorded a flash of gamma radiation, a kind of ultra-high energy light that is the signature of a cataclysmic event.
“Swift automatically relayed the information down to Earth and within seconds robotic telescopes in North and South America turn their gaze on the rising light.
“Astronomers dial into the data to see how bright and powerful the flash had become.”
The series went on to reveal how researchers quickly worked to calculate what was going on.
The narrator added: “Meanwhile, at giant observatories in Chile and Texas, they zero in on it and use specialised instruments to split the light into all its different wavelengths.
“That tells them how far the light had travelled to reach Earth.
“What they find is it had come from seven-and-a-half billion light-years away, halfway across the visible universe.
“Tom Vestrand heads a robotic telescope project at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.
“He’s been tracking high-energy gamma-ray bursts for over a decade and has never seen anything like this.”
Dr Vestrand told viewers: “It was the most luminous thing ever detected by mankind.
“Traditionally we think of astronomy as something that happens very slowly, but this was a thing that had been travelling to us for 7.5 billion years.
“Arrived here and for 30 seconds it was astonishingly bright minutes later meaning it was still showing signs of saturation.”
The narrator concluded by revealing why scientists determined it was a black hole.
He continued: “It was so bright that it was visible to the naked eye.
“Putting together evidence from ground and space telescopes, astronomers determined that the flash was a narrow but intense beam of light.
“Most likely it broadcasted the birth of a black hole.
“This singular moment is the endpoint of a violent chain of events in the core of a large star.”
It was previously revealed how a team of Japanese scientists using the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) telescope captured details of a previously unknown structure located near the centre of our Milky Way.
Their analysis of its motion determined that it was an intermediate-mass black hole, whose cloud has been labelled HCN–0.009–0.044.
Lead author of the study Shunya Takekawa wrote in March: “Detailed kinematic analysis revealed that an enormous mass, 30,000 times that of the sun, was concentrated in a region much smaller than our Solar System.
“This and the lack of any observed object at that location strongly suggests an intermediate-mass black hole.
By analysing other anomalous clouds, we hope to expose other quiet black holes.”
The team’s discovery suggests that many other similar black holes could be hidden around the centre of the Milky Way.
Their theory suggests that intermediate-mass black holes might merge with each other and grow by swallowing surrounding material in order to form supermassive black holes.