Monster 'supermassive' black holes discovered by Durham University astronomers

An artist’s illustration of a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/ESA

Five monster black holes that were previously hidden by dust and gas have been uncovered by astronomers.

The discovery, led by a scientist from the University of Durham, suggests there may be millions more "supermassive" black holes in the universe than were previously thought.

  • Supermassive black holes are powerful cosmic "drains" sucking material into a point of infinite density formed from the compressed mass of hundreds of thousands to billions of suns.

High energy X-rays emitted from around the newly identified black holesrevealed their presence at the centre of five galaxies.

They were detected by the American space agency Nasa's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) orbiting observatory which was launched in 2012.

The space telescope is designed to pick up extremely high energy X-rays from distant objects.

Lead scientist George Lansbury, from the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at the University of Durham, said: "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 from our view.

An illustration of the NuSTAR satellite observatory in orbit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The scientists presented their findings at the Royal Astronomical Society'sNational Astronomy Meeting, in Llandudno, Wales.

The research, funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.