According to astronomers at Durham University in the United Kingdom, there may be millions of supermassive black holes in the universe. This estimate is based on their having finally confirmed the existence of five supermassive black holes that were clouded from view by gas and dust.
The international team used NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite observatory to view the black holes and confirm their existence. NuSTAR was launched in 2012, and it allows astronomers to view much higher energy X-rays than other observatories. Those high energy X-rays penetrate through gas and dust at a much higher degree, allowing the black holes to be observed.
The black holes in question were both brighter and more active than previously thought, and produce significant amounts of radiation as they destroy material that comes within their gravity.
According to the team, astronomers have known about other supermassive black holes in the universe, which are often found at the center of galaxies. Because of the older observatories limitations, however, the five recently observed black holes were hidden from view, although they were expected to be there. The discovery of black holes is generally predicated on observing how they interact with other objects in space, objects such as solar systems which are not directly within their gravitational field, and which aren’t doomed to destruction within the black hole. All objects in space act upon other objects through their own gravity, allowing astronomers to determine where objects might be, how large they are, and other information.
With the development of NuSTAR, and this recent study, it is not possible to locate and even discover black holes based on the radiation that they give off, much in the way we would detect stars by their own radiation. Based on the information they’ve learned from these five supermassive black holes, the ream has estimated that there could be upwards of a million other such black holes, not to mention smaller ones, throughout the universe.