What would life be like on a planet orbiting a pulsar? Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 1 billion neutron stars, of which about 200,000 are pulsars –neutron stars of only 10 to 30 kilometers in diameter with enormous magnetic fields, that accrete matter and regularly burst out large amounts of X-rays and other energetic particles. So far, 3000 pulsars have been studied and only 5 pulsar planets have been found. In 1992, the first exoplanets ever were discovered around pulsar PSR B1257+12.
“We believe we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, and that the few galaxies discovered so far around this supermassive black hole are only the brightest ones,” said Barbara Balmaverde, at The National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Torino, Italy about the discovery by astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) of six galaxies in a cosmic “spider’s web” of gas extending to over 300 times the size of the Milky Way around a supermassive black hole –those “strange galactic monsters, for whom creation is destruction, death life, chaos order”–at the dawn of time when the universe was only 0.9 billion years old.
This image of microquasar SS 433, first discovered forty years ago, located about 18 000 light-years away in the constellation of Aquila (The Eagle), was captured for the very first time at submillimeter wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The image is a game changer because it shows the jets emitted by a hot, swirling disc of material encircling the supermassive black hole at SS 433’s center –these jets have been seen to move at apparent speeds greater than that of light .
On Feb. 14, 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back at our solar system and snapped the first-ever pictures of the planets from its perch at that time beyond Neptune. This past April, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team unveiled humanity’s first image of a supermassive black hole –described as the Gates of Hell and the End of Spacetime– the picture of galaxy Messier 87’s central supermassive black hole. A monster the size of our solar system, and bigger, with the mass of six and a half billion suns, with a ring of gas—in hues of red, orange, and yellow—glowing around it, the shadow cast by the event horizon, predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
This black hole is growing so rapidly that it’s as luminous as 700 trillion suns, shining thousands of times more brightly than an entire galaxy due to all of the gases it sucks in daily that cause lots of friction and heat. How this drainpipe into eternity grew to such mass so early after the Big Bang is a profound puzzle for physics.