At the heart of every galaxy shaped like the Milky Way, a whirlpool galaxy, there lies a SMBH or Super Massive Black Hole. So far, this has been the rule. The MW’s SMBH is the mass of 4 million Suns. Believe it or not, that is actually on the low end of the spectrum. Some galaxies like our neighbor Andromeda, home to at least a trillion stars, have SMBHs weighing in at a whopping 2.3 x 108 solar masses!
An international team of astronomers has published a map of the sky showing over 25,000 supermassive black holes and will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is the most detailed celestial map in the field of so-called low radio frequencies. The astronomers, including Leiden astronomers, used 52 stations with LOFAR antennas spread across nine European countries.
To an untrained eye, the sky map appears to contain thousands of stars. This map is not one filled with stars, but supermassive black holes. Each dot represents a SMBH that is surrounded by its home galaxy. The radio emissions are emitted by matter that was ejected as it got close to the black hole.
Research leader Francesco de Gasperin (formerly Leiden University, now Universität Hamburg, Germany) says about the study: “This is the result of many years of work on incredibly difficult data. We had to invent new methods to convert the radio signals into images of the sky.”
From the bottom of the pool
These long radio wavelength observations can be very tricky to obtain, complicated further by the ionosphere that envelopes the Earth. This layer of free electrons acts like a cloudy lens that constantly moves across the radio telescope. Co-author Reinout van Weeren (Leiden Observatory) explains: “It’s similar to when you try to see the world while immersed in a swimming pool. When you look up, the waves on the water of the pool deflect the light rays and distort the view.”
Map of the entire sky
Theses scientists created this new map by combining 256 hours of observations of the northern sky. The researchers deployed supercomputers with new algorithms that correct the effect of the ionosphere every four seconds. Scientific Director of the Leiden Observatory Huub Röttgering is the last author of the publication. Delighted with the results, Dr. Röttgering stated, “After many years of software development, it is so wonderful to see that this has now really worked out.”
The map now covers 4 percent of the northern half of the sky. The astronomers plan to continue until they have mapped the entire northern sky. Supermassive black holes, the map also provides insight into the large-scale structure of the universe.