Ladies and gents, our universe just got a lot bigger.
A team of more than 200 participating astronomers from 18 countries has recently revealed that the Universe has more galaxies than we previously thought.
In fact, thanks to the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) researchers have found 300,000 radio sources, corresponding to the supermassive black holes in the heart of distant galaxies.
LOFAR is a novel low-frequency radio astronomy array that uses a new approach to obtain a breakthrough in sensitivity for astronomical observations at radio-frequencies below 250 MHz.
“This is a new window on the universe,’ explained Cyril Tasse, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory.
“When we saw the first images we were like: ‘What is this?!’ It didn’t look anything at all like what we are used to seeing.”
The study comes as the first step to obtaining information about black holes and how galaxy clusters evolve since researchers have only explored 2% of space and estimate that they could find more than 15 million cosmic radio sources.
And all of this is possible thanks to radio astronomy, which allows experts to detect radiation produced as massive celestial objects in the cosmos interact with one another.
With the help of LOFAR, astronomers were able to spot traces of ancient radiation that was produced when distant galaxies merged.
These traces, or jets, have previously remained undetected and can extend over millions of light years.
“With radio observations, we can detect radiation from the tenuous medium that exists between galaxies,” explained Amanda Wilber, of the University of Hamburg.
“LOFAR allows us to detect many more of these sources and understand what is powering them.”
The paper, detailing the massive discovery was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and corresponds to only one-half of the sky survey, meaning only two percent of the sky has been looked at.
More data, with new discoveries, is expected to be released by astronomers in the near future.
The newly found light sources will help astronomers in better understanding one of the most enigmatic objects in space: black holes.
These cosmic monsters have a gravitational pull so powerful, astronomers believe nothing can escape them.
Black holes are thought to emit radiation when they approach and surround other high-mass objects like stars or cosmic gas clouds.
The new observational technique may aid astronomers in comparing black holes over periods of time to see how they form, grow and develop.
“These images are now public and will allow astronomers to study the evolution of galaxies in unprecedented detail,” said Timothy Shimwell from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON).