Supermassive black holes are hiding ‘like monsters under your bed’ in galaxies close to Milky Way

But too far away to pose a threat, say researchers

John von Radowitz
Saturday 07 January 2017 17:16
A Nasa image of a black hole and its jets
A Nasa image of a black hole and its jets

Giant black holes may be lurking “like monsters under your bed” behind smokescreens in our cosmic back yard, scientists have said.

Astronomers have discovered evidence of supermassive black holes at the centre of two of our galactic neighbours.

In each case the powerful black hole is concealed behind clouds of gas and dust. Scientists now believe most large galaxies have supermassive black holes at their cores, but many are hidden from view.

Massive Black Hole Shreds Passing Star

One, the galaxy NGC 1448, is “just” 38 million light years from our own body of stars, the Milky Way. The other, IC 3639, is 170 million light years away. Both are classified as “active” galaxies that emit intense levels of radiation.

But they are still much too distant to pose any threat to Earth.

Black holes are places where gravity is so powerful that it traps light and distorts spacetime. They can only be detected from the last-gasp emissions of radiation from objects falling into them.

The hidden black holes were spotted by the NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) orbiting observatory which is designed to see X-rays.

British researchers from the universities of Durham and Southampton conducted analysis of the NuSTAR data.

Astronomer Ady Annuar, from the University of Durham’s Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, said: “These black holes are relatively close to the Milky Way, but they have remained hidden from us until now.

“They're like monsters hiding under your bed.

“Their recent discoveries certainly call out the question of how many other supermassive black holes we are still missing, even in our nearby universe.”

Daniel Stern, project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “It is exciting to use the power of NuSTAR to get important, unique information on these beasts, even in our cosmic backyard where they can be studied in detail.”

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