5 'monster' black holes discovered, millions more may be hidden

(Reuters/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout)
British astronomers discovered five “supermassive” massive black holes, which have previously been hidden under layers of dust and gas. Scientists aren’t ruling out the existence of millions of giant black holes in the universe still hidden from view.

The findings by British astronomers from Durham University have been presented at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting, at Venue Cymru, in Llandudno, Wales.

The five black holes were noticed by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) orbiting observatory, which can pick up extremely high-energy X-rays from faraway distances and identify black holes that are light years away. Such detailed observations were not possible before the launch of the new observatory in 2012. It is capable of detecting much higher energy X-rays, scientists say.

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They were spotted when the NuSTAR was pointed at the collection of newly-discovered black holes.

The find surprised the scientists, as the black holes proved to be brighter and busier than first imagined. “[They] rapidly feasted on surrounding material and emitted large amounts of radiation,” according to the study’s lead author George Lansbury, a postgraduate student in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University.

“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,” Lansbury said. “Thanks to NuSTAR for the first time we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive.”

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The find suggested that millions more could be hidden in the same way. “Although we have only detected five, when we extrapolate across the whole universe then the predicted numbers are huge,” Lansbury stated.

A black hole has a powerful cosmic mass with an enormous gravitational pull, where nothing can escape, including light.