(ORDO NEWS) — Such jets of matter are called jets. Astronomers have identified the source of the surprisingly bright flash – it turned out to be a distant black hole.
In 2022, astronomers observed an extraordinary flare in a part of the sky where there was no sign of a “light show” the previous night.
Scientists estimate that the flash emitted more light than a thousand trillion suns!
As a rule, such bright flashes in the sky are gamma-ray bursts – large-scale jets of X-rays. They are erupted during the collapse (sharp compression) of the cores of massive stars, as well as during the merger of two neutron stars or a black hole and a neutron star.
But this particular event was 100 times more powerful than the afterglow of the most powerful gamma-ray burst, scientists say. It was something out of the ordinary.
To clarify the details of what happened, astronomers focused several powerful telescopes on the signal at once. They collected data at several wavelengths in the X-ray, ultraviolet, optical and radio bands.
Then experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined the likely source of the signal.
Apparently, the signal, called AT 2022cmc, comes from a relativistic jet of matter, or jet. It flies out of a supermassive black hole at a speed close to the speed of light.
Astronomers believe that the jet is produced by a black hole, which suddenly began to absorb a nearby star, releasing a huge amount of energy in the process.
Experts call such phenomena “tidal disruption events”, abbreviated as TDE.
Scientists have repeatedly observed similar TDEs: they occur when the tidal forces of a black hole tear apart a passing star. Similar, though not as destructive, tidal forces are at work in the Earth–Moon system. Because of them, there are ebbs and flows in the earth’s oceans, which gave the name to these forces.
However, AT 2022cmc is brighter than any TDE found to date.
The source is also the most distant TDE ever discovered. It lies about 8.5 billion light-years from Earth—more than halfway through a universe that, remember, is almost 14 billion years old.
The research team believes that the signal may look brighter due to the fact that the jet comes from a black hole directly in the direction of the Earth.
Scientists call this effect relativistic, or Doppler, brightness enhancement. It is also known as the “headlight effect”: when the light of a car’s headlights is directed directly at the observer, it appears much brighter than the light directed away from him.
AT 2022cmc is the fourth Doppler-enhanced TDE ever discovered. Astronomers have observed such an event for the first time since 2011. It is also the first TDE detected by an optical survey of the sky.
Scientists have found that the speed of the relativistic jet is 99.99% of the speed of light. To produce such an intense jet, the black hole must be in a phase of extreme activity.
In the coming years, even more powerful telescopes will begin operation. They will have to detect even more TDEs, and this will help shed light on how galaxies grow and form around supermassive black holes.
“We know that there is [at least] one supermassive black hole for every galaxy, and they formed very quickly during the first million years of the existence of the universe,” says co-author Matteo Lucchini of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This tells us that they [black holes] are feeding very quickly, although we do not know how this feeding process works. So sources like TDE […] can be good helpers in researching how this process”.
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