Astronomers at Peking University recently announce the discovery of a monster black hole they say is 12 billion times the size of our own sun. To give a better sense of its enormous size, the sun is 1.3 million times the size of our Earth. In short, it’s a real whopper that dwarfs our planet.
It is believed to be the one the most massive deep-space black holes ever recorded. With their immense gravity, black holes are constantly sucking in stars, planets, solar systems, gas, and other materials from nearby. This process heats up the gas so much that it emits intense energy and thermal radiation that’s unbelievably bright , called a quasar.
This black hole-quasar combo is estimated to be 12.8 billion light years away (so this huge intergalactic vacuum cleaner shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to our own solar system). The light we’re seeing from it today is from 900 million years after the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago. The quasar produced by this black hole is 420 trillion more luminous than our sun. So, you definitely don’t want to stare directly at it EVER !
This discovery by the Chinese scientists smashes the old record size black holes discovered in 2011 by American astronomers who reported two black holes ten times the size of our solar system that had devoured billions of stars, suns, and their planetary systems. Those two frightening monsters don’t pose an immediate threat of gobbling up our sun and solar system since they are in a sprawling cloud of galaxies about 336 million light years away in the Coma constellation. Whew, that should put our minds at ease… at least for now.
Astronomers also report that two giant black holes have been discovered at the center of a distant galaxy, called NGC 6240 born from the joining of two smaller galaxies, and those black holes are drifting toward a cataclysmic collision that will shake our universe to its core.
Where are those Star Trek heroes when we need them? Any Trekkie knows you need Warp Speed to escape the death grip of a black hole. Forget the perils of nuclear proliferation and the threat posed by ISIS, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda terrorists — the very existence of civilization is in dire jeopardy from these two monsters. Forget the Iranian or North Korean nuclear threat, or the threat of global warming. These monster black holes are a real national security concern! Chicken Little would really squawk about this one — “the sky really is falling.”
Thankfully, those scientists have reassured Chicken Little and the rest of us that this truly “universal” catastrophe won’t occur for hundreds of millions of years. What a relief!
The terror of these black holes colliding some 400 million light-years away is by no means immediate. In fact, our own Sun, which is by contrast only a small fraction of one percent of one light-year distant (93 million miles), is expected to explode in a nova extravaganza in three billion years, and perhaps then collapse to form a small black hole of its own, dragging this Earth and our solar system into a gigantic super-massive planetary graveyard.
But that’s a worry several trillion generations out… that is, if we make it that long as a species. Can we really survive our own shortsightedness and stupidity? Will we have blown ourselves from the face of this planet with a nuclear holocaust? Or, will we have simply been overwhelmed by the Islamist terrorists campaign to subjugate Western Civilization? Will we have the resolve to solve the existential disasters that face our planet?
Black holes and quasars represent the cycles of life and death on a universal, intergalactic scale. Stars growing and expanding to supernova scale, then collapsing in grand implosive style to become voracious black holes, sucking everything in galactic range into the depths of super massive death, devouring even the twinkles of light from dying stars. Birth, growth, development, expansion, old age and death. Never with a whimper. Always with a cataclysmic bang, trailing streams of stellar galactic glory.
The urgent crises of our daily lives shrink in significance when measured in inter-galactic terms. On a starry night, we stare in wonder at the expanses of our universe overhead. We worry not about colliding black holes and super cataclysmic death of stars and solar systems.
After all, our Sun will burn out in 3 billion years. And, God only knows what we’ll do to ourselves in the interim.
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