(TMU) — Scientists have generally believed that the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, Saggitarius A*, is relatively quiet and non-dramatic as far as black holes go.
New data, however, suggests SgrA* has, in recent history, likely been responsible for a powerful and anomalous astrophysical event that caused incomprehensibly expansive blasts of energy and radiation to explode from either side of the Milky Way’s center. Scientists say this event occurred about 3.5 million years ago and would have been visible to humanity’s earliest ancestors.
A team of Australian and American researchers led by Joss Bland-Hawthorn, director of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, collected data from the Hubble Space Telescope showing that the blast occurred in the vicinity of SgrA* and produced a cone-shaped blast of ionized energy and radiation, known as a Seryfert flare, that extended for 200,000 light years on either side and lasted for 300,000 years. The event took place 63 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, when the earliest humans, the Australopithecines, roamed Africa.
Astronomer Magda Guglielmo, who teaches at the University of Sydney, explained the significance of the discovery:
“These new results instead open the possibility of a complete reinterpretation of its evolution and nature. The flare event that occurred three million years ago was so powerful that it had consequences on the surrounding of our Galaxy. We are the witness to the awakening of the sleeping beauty.”
Scientists still don’t know the exact origins of the explosion but the general consensus is that it was simply too big to have been caused by anything other than nuclear activity in the vicinity of SgrA*. The resulting “ionisation cones” likely looked like titanic “lighthouse” beams and were so powerful they even influenced the Magellanic Stream of gas and dust orbiting the Milky Way at a distance of 200,000 light years.
The role of black holes in shaping the evolution of galaxies is still a young scientific pursuit. Even though we’re still in the early days of understanding such cosmological models, new data of cataclysmic black hole events allows the imagination to run wild.
Our earliest ancestors would have had no earthly idea what they were seeing when lighthouse-like beams appeared in the night sky. Three and a half million years later, we’re just now starting to decode the extravagance of the cosmos—and it’s even more fantastical than any of the early gods and archetypes.
When the James Webb telescope—which will be approximately 100 times more powerful than Hubble—launches in 2021, we may be in for delights beyond our wildest imagination.