Gaping black hole with flaming red ring spotted in night sky | Tech News

Black holes are usually found in the centre of galaxies – but which one comes first is your best guess (Picture: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra)

As you look up towards the light-polluted sky tonight, just know that a big, old and hungry red hole is looking down at you.

When scientists looked at A2744-QSO1 through NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope last year, all they saw was a red smudge.

But in reality, this blob was an ‘extremely red’ supermassive black hole gobbling all sorts of space junk in one of the most shadowy and ancient parts of the universe.

For Earthlings reading this, black holes are cosmic abysses so deep, dark and, well, ravenous that not even light can escape them. They’re often found at the centre of galaxies.

For reasons experts don’t quite understand, the bigger a galaxy is, the more massive its central black hole is.

Yet this supermassive black hole, astronomers wrote in the journal Nature last week, is way too big compared to its comparably tiny host galaxy.

The team examined a group of distant galaxies in the central core of Pandora’s Cluster, also known as Abell 2744, some four billion light-years from Earth.

A2744-QSO1, the ‘red’ supermassive black hole (Picture: James Webb Space Telescope Feed Post)

Using some light camera trickery, they laid eyes on the red beast about 12,900,000,000 light-years away from Earth.

Wrapped around it, the team led by Lukas Furtak and Adi Zitrin of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found, was plumes of smokey dust and gas it was happily snacking on.

‘We were very excited when JWST started sending its first data. We were scanning the data that arrived for the UNCOVER program, and three very compact yet red-blooming objects prominently stood out and caught our eyes,’ Furtak said in a statement. 

‘Their “red-dot” appearance immediately led us to suspect that it was a quasar-like object.’

Quasars are like blowtorches in the centre of galaxies that shoot a baffling amount of energy out into the cosmos. They’re made from the unlucky interstellar matter that gets dragged into the maws of a black hole.

‘Analysis of the object’s colours indicated that it was not a typical star-forming galaxy. This further supported the supermassive blackhole hypothesis,’ said professor Rachel Bezanson, from the University of Pittsburgh and co-lead of the UNCOVER program.

A black hole is at its core (pun intended) an object so dense and compact that nothing can escape its aggressive gravitational pull (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Together with its compact size, it became evident this was likely a supermassive black hole, although it was still different from other quasars found at those early times.’

The universe as we think we know was born out of the Big Bang about 13,800,000,000 years ago. As our universe expands, the further away or back in time something is, the ‘redder’ its light is to us.

The wavelengths of light get stretched to longer infrared ones in a process scientists call ‘redshifting’. It’s a bit like how the screeching of an ambulance siren sounds lower as it drives past you.

In other words, this black hole is so far away that the red stringy Play-Doh light we’re seeing is just 700,000,000 years after the Big Bang, said Zitrin.

Calculating the redshift helped Zitrin and the team discover that the black hole is around 40 million times the mass of our sun.

The Webb Telescope feed says of the image: ‘We infer a very high ratio of black hole to galaxy mass of at least 3% and possibly as high as 100%, an order of magnitude or more than is seen in local galaxies.’

That’s a bit too big for Zitrin’s liking, who said it raises questions about how exactly black holes and their host galaxies are related.

‘In a way, it’s the astrophysical equivalent of the chicken and egg problem,’ he said.

‘We do not currently know which came first – the galaxy or black hole, how massive the first black holes were, and how they grew.’

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