If you’re planning a vacation to a supermassive black hole anytime soon, you might want to take a rather hefty windbreaker with you. Because a new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has measured the winds near one, and they’re certainly not sedate.
Now, we’re not quite talking about regular Earth winds here. Rather, these are quasar winds, formed in the huge discs of hot gas surrounding supermassive black holes – like the one found at the center of our galaxy. The intense heat and light of the quasar can blow matter away from the black hole at huge speeds – as detected in this research.
In fact, these winds – detected in the ultraviolet wavelength – were found to be traveling at an astonishing 200 million kilometers (125 million miles) per hour, or 20 percent the speed of light, the fastest ultraviolet winds ever recorded (although some have been spotted faster in X-rays). “That’s equivalent to a category 77 hurricane,” lead researcher Jesse Rogerson from York University joked in a statement. “And we have reason to believe that there are quasar winds that are even faster.”
This quasar in question, 11 billion light-years away in the constellation of Cetus, was the catchily named SDSS J023011.28+005913.6, or J0230 for short, one of 300 examined in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The Gemini Observatory’s twin telescopes in Hawaii and Chile were used to study 100 of these in greater detail.
Speaking to IFLScience, Rogerson said the wind speed measurement was “just a bit of fun,” adding it was a “crazy high” measurement. “We thought it would be fun to extrapolate the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale to meet our measurements. Turns out it would be a category 77 hurricane…,” he said.
It’s important to understand quasar winds, because they are thought to play a part in galaxy formation. Specifically, by throwing out material they actually impede the creation of stars, meaning we see fewer stars in big galaxies than we should.
“The winds generated by quasars, as demonstrated by our measurement, have enough energy to greatly affect the evolution of the galaxy within which it resides,” Rogerson added to IFLScience. “As a result, quasar winds help us understand how galaxies evolve.”