A trio of scientists at Clemson University just made a discovery that was nearly billion years in the making.
Physicist Marco Ajello used data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray telescope to detect five new supermassive black holes that are much bigger than our sun.
Scientists measure the size of celestial bodies in solar masses, with a single solar mass is equivalent to the size of Earth’s sun. Most black holes range from 10-100 solar massess. Ajello said each of the five black holes his team discovered, “weigh one-million to one-billion solar masses.”
“Theses are complete different monsters from normal black holes,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Ajello’s team discovered the objects because they emit enormous amounts of gamma rays that are billions of times more energetic than light that is visible to the human eye. The group’s findings were published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Because of their size, the black holes that Ajello discovered emit a tremendous amount of energy. “These black holes emit in just one second, as much energy as our sun will emit in its entire lifetime,” said Ajello. The massive quantities of energy emitted from the blackholes made them easier to detect.
Every three hours the Fermi telescope takes a picture of the furthest reaches of space. From its view point in low-earth orbit it captures what the universe looked like almost 14 billion years ago. Ajello explained that the gamma rays emitted from the black holes traveled at the speed of light for 1.9 billion years before being detected by the Fermi telescope. Recently the telescope got a software upgrade that allowed it to look even further into space. The software recalibrated all of the data that the telescoped collected in the last nine years and allowed more black holes to come to light.
Sorting through nine years of new data required Ajello to enlist the help of another Clemson colleague — a super computer called the the Palmetto Super Cluster.
“Without such facilities our work would have be a lot harder,” said Ajello. “It would have taken maybe years instead of a few months.”