Did the Beginning of Life on Earth Depend on Black Holes?
An American researcher believes that there is a chance that complex life on habitable planets, such as Earth, could have been “switched on” by black holes. The results of his research seem to be supported by other theories published recently as well.
Astrophysicist Paul Mason, professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, presented his work on January 6, 2016 at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Fla. He is examining the role of super high-energy particles from black holes and exploding stars in the advent of habitable planets.
According to Discovery News, millions of years ago, before life started on the Earth, the planet was bathed in deadly radiation from the younger, angrier sun as well as a high tide of energetic particles. This energy, in the form of cosmic rays, was blasted around the galaxy and universe by exploding stars and giant black holes at the centers of galaxies. Somehow the exploding stars and black holes calmed down adequately for the cosmic ray flux to drop to more sustainable levels - allowing complex life on Earth-like planets to flourish.
''It has taken the universe a while for the cosmic ray density and the frequency of bad events to decrease enough for life to handle it,'' Mason told Discovery News. He explained that those bad events included supernovas - which were much more common in the early universe. A supernova is commonly thought to be a rare astronomical event. It is a catastrophic destruction of the star which occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star's life.
An outburst in the supermassive black hole centered in the small galaxy NGC 5195. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al) “Astronomers often refer to black holes as 'eating' stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal. This behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies.” Eric Schlegel told NASA.
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Black Holes and the Expansion of the Universe
In the early universe, another problem for life in galaxies was that everything was much closer together. When the universe was small, everything was packed thick with sterilizing cosmic rays. It took billions of years for the expanding universe to pull things apart. As Mason told Discovery News: “It implies that the expansion of the universe is important for life.”
Artist’s representation of a black hole and a normal star separated by a few million kilometres. (ESO/L. Calçada) Because the two objects are so close to each other, a stream of matter spills from the normal star toward the black hole and forms a disc of hot gas around it. As matter collides in this accretion disc, it heats up to millions of degrees. Near the black hole, intense magnetic fields in the disc accelerate some of this hot gas into tight jets that flow in opposite directions away from the black hole. (Description by European Southern Observatory)
One element that was helpful to expand life in the universe and eventually fended off cosmic rays were the leftovers of all those supernovas. These were elemental factories thought to have created oxygen and nitrogen atoms, which are now the primary components of our atmosphere. The atmosphere created in this process protects the Earth from all but the most powerful cosmic rays that are still banging around the galaxy. The theory by Paul Mason seems to fit the observable universe, but there are still lots of unanswered questions. He announced that his research on this subject will continue.
Observing Light in a Black Hole
Mason’s finding was published at the same time as another research group announced a related discovery. Astronomers of Kyoto University have learned that black holes can be observed through a simple optical telescope when material from surrounding space falls into them and releases violent bursts of light.
According to The Guardian, Japanese researchers detected light waves from V404 Cygni - an active black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan - when it awoke from a 26-year-long slumber in June 2015. They have found that the light produced by a black hole can be viewed from a regular 20 cm (7.9 inch) telescope.
Japanese researchers report that the activity of black holes can be observed through common telescopes as visible light during outbursts - the flickering light emerging from gases surrounding black holes is a direct indicator of the activity. (Eiri Ono/Kyoto University)
Mariko Kimura, who belongs to the aforementioned research group, wrote in the journal Nature that the team’s telescopes spotted flashes of light coming from the black hole over the two weeks it was active. ''We now know that we can make observations based on optical rays - visible light, in other words - and that black holes can be observed without high-spec x-ray or gamma-ray telescopes,'' Kimura told The Guardian.
Storage for 2D Holograms
In August 2015, Professor Stephen Hawking also presented his current ideas about black holes. His research suggests that black holes don't destroy physical information, as was once believed, but they store it in a 2D hologram.
Sci-News.com published Hawking’s explanation that everything in the world is encoded with quantum mechanical information. Thanks to quantum mechanics, information shouldn't disappear, no matter what happens to it. This universal law is applicable to all things, including black holes. Hawking believes that instead of destroying information, black holes encode it into a two-dimensional hologram at the surface of the black hole's event horizon. Thus the role of black holes in creation and destruction of life in the universe remains a hot topic for astronomy.
Representation of a black hole accretion disk. (XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA)
Featured Image: NASA artist’s depiction of the Black hole Cygnus X-1. Source: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
By: Natalia Klimczak