7 Mind-Blowing Black holes Discoveries: Redefining the Dark Kings of the Cosmos

Black Holes. The very name always invokes a sense of fascination and leaves us in awe. Imagine looking up at the sky on a sunny day, feeling the warmth on your face and seeing the Sun shining brightly. It’s a comforting and familiar sight, isn’t it? Now, picture this: What if, one day, that very same Sun, which we rely on for light and life, could transform into something so mysterious and powerful that not even light could escape from it, into a black hole? Doesn’t it amaze you?

But can the sun really be a Black Hole? The answer is NO! 

Questions like this have always intrigued scientists and the public alike for decades. What’s the good news? We’re constantly learning more! Recently, Black Holes are hitting the headlines! But wait, before exploring these latest discoveries, let us know what exactly are Black Holes and why they hold so much interest.

How are Black Holes formed?

Do you remember the movie Interstellar? Where the spaceship Endurance’s destination was this fictional Supermassive Black Hole, the Gargantua! Now, this Black Hole as creatively depicted in the movie was nearly 100 million times more massive than our Sun. Isn’t it fascinating? This gives an impression of what Black Holes look like.

Anatomy of Blackhole
Anatomy of Black Hole 
Credits: ESO, ESA/Hubble, M.Kornmesser/N.Bartmann; Labels: NASA/CXC

The birth of black holes begins with the end of the stars. It is formed when a massive star, nearly 8 to 10  solar masses, exhausts its fuel during the nuclear fusion process i.e hydrogen. It explodes during a dramatic explosion called Supernova and collapses under its own gravity. If the star is massive enough, the collapse will continue until the core reaches a point of infinite density and zero volume, called a singularity. This singularity is surrounded by an event horizon, a boundary of swirling photons. Here the gravitational effects are so strong from nothing, not even light can escape! Isn’t it just so amazing!

If you want to see an interactive visualization of how a Black Hole looks,  then click here.

How are these Blackholes detected?

Black holes are invisible. Yes, you heard it right! Then how are they even detected?  Black holes are dominated by their immense gravitational effects on their surroundings. In the movie ‘Interstellar’, the Gargantua is an active Black Hole, that bends the light, similar to how real Black Holes influence their surroundings by accreating the matter around itself, thereby forming an accretion disk.

Matter pulled towards a black hole speeds up and heats up, emitting X-rays or gamma rays into space extending millions of light years, forming the relativistic jets that can be detected by X-ray telescopes such as the orbiting NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Fictionally you can compare these high-energy relativistic jets with the weapon ‘Lightsaber’, from the movie ‘Star Wars’ 

But, what if a Black Hole is inactive? If a Black Hole is inactive, which means that it is not actively accreting matter from its surroundings, then they are detected by its optical dominance on the nearby objects this is known as microlensing, thereby distorting the fabric of spacetime. For example, the black hole of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A*. Want to know about how Black holes are detected? Click here to learn more! Truly saying that black Holes are creating buzz all over. This past couple of years have been particularly exciting for black hole research. There have been some groundbreaking discoveries that will blow your mind! So let’s shed some light on it.

7 Major Groundbreaking Discoveries related to Blackholes:

  • James Webb detects the most distant Black Hole merger till date! (May, 2024):

The greatest black hole merger ever discovered has been found! Thanks to a stunning discovery made by none other than our very own James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)! This merger in the ZS7 system happened 740 million years ago, just after the Big bang when our universe was in its infant stage. 

Do you know what a Black Hole merger is?

Think of the black hole merging as the cosmic equivalent of the last fight scene in “Thor: Ragnarok,” where tremendous forces meet and send shockwaves across the universe. Similar to the striking energy waves in the film. When two black holes get near enough to one another, they spiral inward and finally collide, merging into a single, bigger black hole. This is known as a black hole merger. Huge amounts of energy are released during this process in the form of gravitational waves, which are ripples in spacetime that radiate outward from the merger.

Spatial view of two Black Holes merging in ZS7 environment (BH Merger)
Spatial view of two Black Holes merging in ZS7 environment (BH Merger)
Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, J. Dunlop, H. Übler, R. Maiolino, et. al

Thanks to the clearest observations of James Webb Space Telescope which gave insight about the rapid growth of this cannibal giants within the early stages of our universe not only that, JWST has this power to see in Infrared range, which enabled scientists to distinguish between the two, based on the hot, highly ionized moving gas that is illuminated by the energetic radiation that black holes typically produce during their accretion episodes.

  • First Direct Black Hole Jet Image Taken from M87 (May, 2024):

Well who doesn’t recall the first ever image of the Black Hole M87 which created whooping waves and left everyone amazed in April 2019, captured by the joint collaboration of EHT, the Event Horizon Telescope. But, this is not the least you can expect. 

The Super Massive Black Hole M87 is again making headlines due to the detection of the first-ever high-energy Jets emanating out from the Black Hole in May 2024. The image of these magnificent Jets is the result of the joint collaboration of radio telescopes, all around the globe including, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Green Bank Observatory (GBO) and Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Isn’t it amazing!!

Image of relativistic jets captured from Black Hole M87 (Jets from M87)
Image of relativistic jets captured from Black Hole M87 (Jets from M87)
Credit: EHT Collaboration; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Do you know what’s more astonishing about this image?

The image of the black holes captured by EHT just implicated the ring, scientifically speaking only the accretion disk, but the recent images captured by all these radio telescopes puts together a complete picture of BH, showing both the jets and the accretion disc. Now here comes the moment of great revelation. We can say that the observed accretion disc of Black Hole M87 is nearly 50 percent bigger, than what we thought previously. 

Now this does make a difference!

  • Massive Stellar Mass  Black Hole found in Milky Way (April, 2024):

Do you remember Cygnus X-1? The most massive Stellar Mass Black Holes closest to Earth  which weighs nearly 21 times the mass of the Sun and 7000 light years away.

Here’s the amazing news! Now Cygnus X-1 is dethroned from its title, because astronomers have found a  new Stellar Mass Black Holes which is more massive and much closer to earth. Meet GAIA BH3! Now you should believe this, GAIA BH3 is 33 times more massive than our Sun and it’s just 2000 light years away in the constellation of Aquila, making  itself the second largest, heaviest and closest Stellar Mass Black Hole from earth

Artistic Illustration of GAIA BH3 (GAIA BH3 )
Artistic Illustration of GAIA BH3 (GAIA BH3 )

Moreover, the Black Holes GAIA BH1 and GAIA BH2 were previously discovered in 2022, nearly 1560 ly away in the direction of the Constellation of Ophiuchus and 3800 ly away in the constellation of Centaurus from Earth, but the Black Holes GAIA BH3 is truly the BlackHole of the year now! 

Interestingly, you can view these constellations using the Stellarium app!

But how was GAIA BH3 detected?

Firstly you need to understand that the Stellar Mass Black Holes are not easily detectable. The Stellar Mass Black Holes are detectable only if  either they exist in binaries or in companion with a star. Here comes the interesting part, analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which was launched in 2013, as well as collective observations from ground-based observatories, such as the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES) instrument on ESO’s VLT located in Chile’s Atacama Desert, revealed the existence of an odd “wobbling” motion on the companion star that orbits GAIA BH3.

  • Strongly Twisted Magnetic Fields of Sagittarius A* (March, 2024):

The First ever image of Supermassive Black Hole M87 on april 2019,  created waves all over the world. Soon after that, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) released the image of monstrous supermassive Black Hole Sagittarius A* at the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy in 2022. This was the first time where we were able to see the real image of the black hole. So fascinating right!  

Polarized view of the Milky Way’s black hole Sagittarius A* (Sagittarius A*)
Polarized view of the Milky Way’s black hole Sagittarius A* (Sagittarius A*)
Credit: EHT Collaboration

Scientists from EHT, observed M87 in polarized part of radio light and released the new image which shows the spiral  orientation of magnetic fields along the vicinity of Black Holes on March 23, 2024. The study of these twisted spiral magnetic fields gave insight about the relativistic jets emerging out from the black hole and made scientist wonder whether the same characteristics are shared by Sagittarius A*.

The new images of Sagittarius A* released by EHT in polarized light shows similar but strong, spiraling and orderly orientation of these magnetic fields, but the jets emerging out would be less intense as compared to the jets of M87. 

But hold on! There is still a lot more to be discovered and analyze about these Strong Magnetic Fields around the Sagittarius A*. So stay tuned.

  • ALMA reveals, Massive Black Holes That “Recycle” Matter (November, 2023):

For a very long time, matter has been believed to travel only one way through SMBH, the galactic giants that lurk at the center of galaxies. One might think everything that gets pulled in by a black holes is doomed and destined to stay beyond the event horizon, or the point of no return. But here comes the twist! New data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is changing the narrative. Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, is home to an amazing black hole gas recycling mechanism that ALMA has discovered.

Sounds interesting right! Let’s see how it even happens?

Illustration of a supermassive black hole affecting the distribution of the interstellar medium. (Recycling Process in BH )
Illustration of a supermassive black hole affecting the distribution of the interstellar medium. (Recycling Process in BH )
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Izumi et al.

A large fraction of the gas that is drawn into these Black holes is not doomed, as highlighted by ALMA’s critical observation. Rather, part of this gas is propelled out in strong jets by its spin and strong magnetic fields. Unexpectedly, the force of these jets is insufficient to completely escape the gravitational pull of the black hole.

These discharges were observed at very low velocities by ALMA’s acute eye. These outflows circling Sgr A* are not as rapid as the jets that some black holes expel out. This insignificant escape velocity raises the possibility that part of the gas thrown outwards may ultimately return to the accretion disc, closing a cosmic loop, rather than vanishing forever thus completing a cosmic recycling loop.

  • Gravitational Wave Detectors: A Quantum Boost! (October, 2023):

Do you recall the astounding gravitational wave discovery in 2015? Information on cosmic events like black holes mergers is carried by these spacetime ripples. However, the search for more never ends! In order to view farther into the cosmos, scientists are continuously pushing the limits of gravitational-wave detectors like LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). 

How does LIGO detect these Gravitational waves?

Imagine yourself standing on a noisy platform, trying to hear the slightest whisper. However, our ability to listen is limited. This is exactly what LIGO does! It listens for minute vibrations in the universe’s continuous hum that are created by gravitational waves. In the context of LIGO, this means that there is a limit to how well we can detect the minute variations in laser light that result from a gravitational wave; this concept is called ‘Quantum noise’.

Here comes the Quantum Mechanics twist!

Researchers are now able to get around this restriction by using quantum mechanics!  Using a unique type of laser light referred to as a “squeezed state” that focuses the light’s energy into particular frequencies as part of the process, this technique is called Quantum squeezing.  Imagine it like concentrating a torch beam, which makes it brighter in one direction and dimmer in other areas. 

This compressed light may be used to efficiently minimize quantum noise in the exact frequency band where gravitational waves are predicted by injecting it into the detector. This makes the listening environment quieter, which enables the detector to catch gravitational waves that were previously concealed but are now fainter.

Want to know more about how LIGO detectors work? Click here

  • Most distant Black Holes found by NASA’s Chandra and JWST!

Have you wondered how these colossal giants  would have existed so soon after the big bang? Keep your curiosity alive because, only 470 million years after the big bang, NASA’s Infrared JWST and Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered a Black Hole signature in the astonishingly distant galaxy UHZ1, which is 13.2 billion light-years away from Earth.

YES, you heard it right! Our universe is just 13.8 billion years old. Recent observations say the age of our universe is double of what we know. Since the BH was not directly detectable. This finding was made possible because of Gravitational Lensing. Abell 2744, a large galaxy cluster, bent and magnified the light from UHZ1 like a natural magnifying glass, enabling Chandra to detect the strong X-ray emissions at that point to the expansion of a SMBH and  James Webb to detect the weak infrared signals.

Isn’t it interesting how far we can see because of JWST!

Black Hole UHZ1 viewed by Chandra and JWST (Black Hole UHZ1)
Black Hole UHZ1 viewed by Chandra and JWST (Black Hole UHZ1)

The mass of this Black Hole is approximately, between 10 to 100 million suns. This is leading all curious minds to think that whether they exist because of the collapse of the Giant molecular cloud during the early stages of our universe? or with the just collapse of 10 to 100 stars formed in the universe. Because the presence of such a massive black hole is a step forward to know more about these SMBH we observe today!

Surely our Universe serves endless possibilities and there is a lot more to discover about the Black holes. So let that curiosity stay until we explore more!

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