A number of supermassive black holes, clouded from direct view by gas and dust, have been uncovered by NASA’s NuSTAR observatory, which was launched in 2012 to conduct a deep survey of these exotic objects.
Pointing NuSTAR at nine candidate supermassive black holes suspected to be in hiding, the team of astronomers based at Durham University found five of these high-gravity monsters, since they were spewing out the high-energy X-rays that the space telescope likes to find. Rapidly feasting on a great deal of surrounding material and belching large amounts of radiation, the confirmed objects are also much brighter than previously thought.
“For a long time we have known about supermassive black holes that are not obscured by dust and gas, but we suspected that many more were hidden from view,” says lead astronomer George Lansbury at Durham’s Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy. “Thanks to NuSTAR we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their ‘buried’ state.”
Lansbury and his team may have only found five of this hefty objects but this tells us a lot about the number of supermassive black holes scattered through the cosmos. “When we extrapolate our results across the whole universe then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see,” he explains.
The exciting finding supports the theory that potentially millions more supermassive black holes exist in the universe, but are hidden from view.