Astronomers Capture Supermassive Black Hole Eruption Near Earth Spanning 16 Times the Full Moon in the Sky

Radio Galaxy Centaurus A

Centaurus A is a giant elliptical active galaxy 12 million light-years away. At its heart lies a black hole with a mass of 55 million suns. This image shows the galaxy at radio wavelengths, revealing vast lobes of plasma that reach far beyond the visible galaxy, which occupies only a small patch at the center of the image. The dots in the background are not stars, but radio galaxies much like Centaurus A, at far greater distances. Credit: Ben McKinley, ICRAR/Curtin and Connor Matherne, Louisiana State University

Astronomers have produced the most comprehensive image of radio emission from the nearest actively feeding supermassive black hole to Earth.

The emission is powered by a central black hole in the galaxy Centaurus A, about 12 million light years away.

As the black hole feeds on in-falling gas, it ejects material at near light-speed, causing ‘radio bubbles’ to grow over hundreds of millions of years.

When viewed from Earth, the eruption from Centaurus A now extends eight degrees across the sky—the length of 16 full Moons laid side by side.

It was captured using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in outback Western Australia.

Radio Galaxy Centaurus a Multiwavelength Image

Centaurus A is a giant elliptical active galaxy 12 million light-years away. At its heart lies a black hole with a mass of 55 million suns. This composite image shows the galaxy and the surrounding intergalactic space at several different wavelengths. The radio plasma is displayed in blue and appears to be interacting with hot X-ray emitting gas (orange) and cold neutral hydrogen (purple). Clouds emitting Halpha (red) are also shown above the main optical part of the galaxy which lies in between the two brightest radio blobs. The ‘background’ is at optical wavelengths, showing stars in our own Milky Way that are actually in the foreground. Credit: Connor Matherne, Louisiana State University (Optical/Halpha), Kraft et al. (X-ray), Struve et al. (HI), Ben McKinley, ICRAR/Curtin. (Radio)

The research was published on December 22, 2021, in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Lead author Dr. Benjamin McKinley, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said the image reveals spectacular new details of the radio emission from the galaxy.

“These radio waves come from material being sucked into the supermassive black hole in the middle of the galaxy,” he said.

“It forms a disc around the black hole, and as the matter gets ripped apart going close to the black hole, powerful jets form on either side of the disc, ejecting most of the material back out into space, to distances of probably more than a million light years.

“Previous radio observations could not handle the extreme brightness of the jets and details of the larger area surrounding the galaxy were distorted, but our new image overcomes these limitations.”


A video showing the radio galaxy, Centaurus A, which hosts the closest actively feeding black hole to Earth. The video shows the apparent size of the galaxy at optical, X-ray, and submillimeter wavelengths from Earth when compared to the Moon. It then zooms out to show the enormous extent of the surrounding bubbles that are observed at radio wavelengths. Astronomers have produced the most comprehensive image of radio emission from the nearest actively feeding supermassive black hole to Earth.

Centaurus A is the closest radio galaxy to our own Milky Way.

“We can learn a lot from Centaurus A in particular, just because it is so close and we can see it in such detail,” Dr. McKinley said.

“Not just at radio wavelengths, but at all other wavelengths of light as well.

“In this research we’ve been able to combine the radio observations with optical and x-ray data, to help us better understand the physics of these supermassive black holes.”

MWA Tile 107 Outlier

Tile 107, or “the Outlier” as it is known, is one of 256 tiles of the MWA, located 1.5km from the core of the telescope. Lighting the tile and the ancient landscape is the Moon. Credit: Pete Wheeler, ICRAR

Astrophysicist Dr. Massimo Gaspari, from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, said the study corroborated a novel theory known as ‘Chaotic Cold Accretion’ (CCA), which is emerging in different fields.

“In this model, clouds of cold gas condense in the galactic halo and rain down onto the central regions, feeding the supermassive black hole,” he said.

“Triggered by this rain, the black hole vigorously reacts by launching energy back via radio jets that inflate the spectacular lobes we see in the MWA image. This study is one of the first to probe in such detail the multiphase CCA ‘weather’ over the full range of scales,” Dr. Gaspari concluded.

Dr. McKinley said the galaxy appears brighter in the center where it is more active and there is a lot of energy.

“Then it’s fainter as you go out because the energy’s been lost and things have settled down,” he said.

“But there are interesting features where charged particles have re-accelerated and are interacting with strong magnetic fields.”

MWA director Professor Steven Tingay said the research was possible because of the telescope’s extremely wide field-of-view, superb radio-quiet location, and excellent sensitivity.

“The MWA is a precursor for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA)—a global initiative to build the world’s largest radio telescopes in Western Australia and South Africa,” he said.

“The wide field of view and, as a consequence, the extraordinary amount of data we can collect, means that the discovery potential of every MWA observation is very high. This provides a fantastic step toward the even bigger SKA.”

Reference: “Multi-scale feedback and feeding in the closest radio galaxy Centaurus A” by B. McKinley, S. J. Tingay, M. Gaspari, R. P. Kraft, C. Matherne, A. R. Offringa, M. McDonald, M. S. Calzadilla, S. Veilleux, S. S. Shabala, S. D. J. Gwyn, J. Bland-Hawthorn, D. Crnojević, B. M. Gaensler and M. Johnston-Hollitt, 22 December 2021, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01553-3

The Murchison Widefield Array is the MWA is managed and operated by Curtin University on behalf of an international consortium, and is located on the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. The observatory is managed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and was established with the support of the Australian and Western Australian Governments. We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji as the traditional owners of the observatory site.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth–a Tier 1 publicly funded national supercomputing facility–helped store and process the MWA observations used in this research.

12 Comments on "Astronomers Capture Supermassive Black Hole Eruption Near Earth Spanning 16 Times the Full Moon in the Sky"

  1. An article title that is worthy of the National Enquirer.

  2. You drew me in with the title:
    “Supermassive Black Hole Eruption Near Earth”
    Now I know you define “Near Earth” to be about 12,000,000 light years away.
    Our own supermassive Black Hole is 26,000 light years away. Even that isn’t close.
    Because you’ve lied to me, I’ve blocked you from appearing in my news feed.

  3. Michael Fidler | December 25, 2021 at 9:05 pm | Reply

    Well it definitely has Balls!

  4. This black hole eruption is nowhere near earth. The headline that drew me to your site is not just misleading, it is plainly wrong.

  5. A lot of ignorant people commenting that 12 million light years isn’t close to Earth, failing to understand that relatively speaking, in terms of space and its overwhelming size and distances, that 12 million light years is comparable to the distance to your neighbor’s house.

    • Yes, numerous errors. They MEANT to say “12 million years ago black hole sucked the big one”. Because we have no knowledge of what it is doing now, or if it even exists. BECAUSE IT IS SO FAR AWAY.

  6. Near earth my ass😳

  7. They can’t even determine the wattage of a light bulb from a mile away, and they want us to believe they can “calculate” or “estimate”something that’s 12 million light years away!?!?

    Give back our tax money you frauds!!!

  8. Disappointed that you’d choose to label 16 million light years from earth “nearby.”

    Was “nearby” used in the title to pretend that this object could be a threat to 🌍 so you could grab eyeballs?

    Cosmologically you can call that “NEAR” about as much as I could tell people that a small and undetected black hole sucking up a star in the neighborhood of Alpha Centauri (a few light years away) couldn’t pose a threat to earth with a relativistic jet. 🙃

  9. Kehm Secksdiin | December 26, 2021 at 8:43 pm | Reply

    I’m way over you pos people and the way you casually use the fate of the world to get eyes on ur text….

  10. Shameful headline. I expect better from a cite that claims to be for science.

  11. Yo moms likes my scitech in her super massive black hole.

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