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Supermassive Black Holes Can Cause Tsunami Waves as High as 94.6 Trillion km

A black hole located approximately 1,500 light years from our solar system pulls at a nearby red giant star, distorting its light in an undated illustration.  Ohio State illustration/Lauren Fanfer/Handout via REUTERS

A black hole located approximately 1,500 light years from our solar system pulls at a nearby red giant star, distorting its light in an undated illustration. Ohio State illustration/Lauren Fanfer/Handout via REUTERS

That is what astronomers have discovered - Tsunamis of gas escaping from black holes with waves with an unfathomable size of 94.6 trillion kilometres or 10 light-years, which is more than 300 times the diameter of our solar system.

The highest waves in the 2004 Tsunami that wreaked havoc in Indonesia were as high as 51 metres. Tsunamis are caused when a large displacement of water happens caused by one of several reasons such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and underwater explosions. Now, imagine a Tsunami on the cosmic scale, except it is waves of gas instead of water, and at the core lies a black hole, a destroyer of stars. That is what astronomers have discovered - Tsunamis of gas escaping from black holes with waves with an unfathomable size of 94.6 trillion kilometres or 10 light-years, which is more than 300 times the diameter of our solar system.

Supermassive black holes, with a mass larger than a million suns, are the heaviest things in the universe and their gravity does not spare even light. Thanks to their gravity, they are surrounded by massive discs of material such as plasma, gases and star debris. However, the circulating plasma, with a distance just far enough that it does not fall into the black hole, releases strong and really bright x-ray radiation. This radiation, scientists say, can create a storm driving strong winds away from the black hole, something which is called “outflow.”

When astrophysicists ran computer simulations to know what this outflow can do, they were blown to know that these can cause Tsunamis on a cosmic scale. Scientists found that this X-ray radiation could explain the presence of “clouds,” clumps of the outflow, near a black hole.

These clouds, according to Tim Waters, the lead author of the study, are moving at the speed of the solar wind and ten times hotter than the surface of the Sun, “so they are rather exotic objects that you would not want an airplane to fly through,” said Waters in a news release by NASA. The findings of the study were consistent with the velocities and temperatures of the plasma surrounding black holes detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory.

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However, NASA is launching its Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission in November, which may help scientists understand these phenomena better.

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first published:June 30, 2021, 12:08 IST