As humans, it’s natural for us to be fascinated by complex and organized structures rather than chaos. But destructive forces can be fascinating as well, especially when they provide the fuel for beautiful cosmic objects to emerge. For instance, a supernova, which is by definition the explosion of a star, can lead to the creation of other stars.
The Ophiuchus galaxy cluster now holds a new record: it’s the location of the most powerful explosion ever seen in the Universe. The outburst was provided by a supermassive black hole that lies in the center of one of the numerous galaxies from the cluster. The team of researchers that made the discovery was lead by Dr. Simona Giacintucci from the Naval Research Laboratory.
390 million light-years away
Giacintucci gave us an idea of how powerful the explosion was, and it’s beyond imagination:
You could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster’s hot gas,
But even more frightening, nobody knows why the explosion got so huge. Since the explosion was so big, it needed a lot of time. Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt confirms it:
But it happened very slowly—like an explosion in slow motion that took place over hundreds of millions of years.
Was it a bigger explosion than the Big Bang itself?
A lot of people are already answering themselves this question now, after learning how fantastically powerful the explosion from the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster was. Actually, the question is simply wrong, and it’s easy to understand why.
The Big Bang wasn’t really an explosion, despite its name. It’s just an extremely fast expansion of spacetime, even faster than light. And if you think that this violates Einstein’s claim that nothing can surpass the speed of light, well, it doesn’t. Einstein was referring to the speed of light inside the Universe because light by definition cannot be beyond space (until the existence of other Universes will be proven, perhaps). Einstein didn’t exclude that beyond the Universe or at its edges the laws of physics can behave differently.
So there you have it: asking if the explosion from the galaxy cluster is more powerful than the Big Bang is like asking if a bird flies faster than a fish. Because fishes don’t fly, and The Big Bang was not an explosion.
The discovery of the explosion from the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster was made with the help of four telescopes; the Chandra X-ray Observatory from NASA, the XMM-Newton from ESA, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) from Western Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) from India.