Today, the advent of cutting edge observational instruments is illuminating amazing facts about life and the universe, one after another.(rocket blasting) NASA’s latest space telescope, TESS, is expanding the search for life on other planets. (awe-inspiring music) Even earthbound telescopes are getting in on the act, and astronomers are giving us astonishing news, visual proof of the reality of black holes. Oh! A century ago, Einstein’s theory predicted the existence of black holes, and numerous scientists have searched for them ever since. Black holes suck in everything around them. Even light cannot escape their black depths. No person had ever seen the actual object. Then, in April 2019, an image of this phantom was revealed for the first time, and stunning new findings overturned conventional theories. A startling new picture is emerging.
The existence of black holes is what made life on Earth possible. I would say having the recipe for life in place has to do with the activity of black holes in the very early universe. Black holes have concealed the greatest mysteries of the universe. In this episode, we’ll explore the connection between black holes and life on earth. (triumphant music) (upbeat music) This is the Mizusawa branch of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, nearly a year before the press conference announcing the first images of a black hole. In June 2018, a fateful day arrived. The leader of Japan’s efforts to observe black holes is Mareki Honma. This was a special day, when all of the data from observations of a black hole would come together, after 10 long years attempting to see into the darkness. (ethereal music) But telescopes were pointed in the direction of the constellation Virgo. There was a cluster of galaxies in Virgo, some 60 million light years away from Earth. (stars whooshing) Within it, an especially bright group of stars, the galaxy M87.
Surveillance data suggested there was a black hole at the center of this galaxy, but no one had ever seen it. (dramatic music) That’s because it would require an observation device with such super precision that it could discern, from Earth, a tennis ball on the face of the Moon. (ethereal music) To solve this problem, scientists found a way to create a monster telescope of astonishing reach. (dramatic music) Honma worked with other astronomers to launch a project called the Event Horizon Telescope that would network eight radio telescopes from around the world. (telescopes dinging) When these widely separated telescopes all observed the same astronomical body, they would have a capacity equal to a super massive telescope, the size of Earth. This networked telescope is 3 million times more powerful than human eyesight. That power would be used to see a black hole. It had already been months since the simultaneous observations began across the globe, in the Antarctic, North and South America, Europe, the world’s radio telescopes turned toward the black hole. All right.<v ->Oh yes, yes. The five day period of observation enjoyed good weather and proceeded smoothly, but the results could not be seen immediately. (dramatic music) With observations taking place in eight locations, the data did not match perfectly, and tiny distortions caused a fuzzy image.
The data had to be adjusted to sharpen the picture. (soft music) How could they make the fuzzy image clear? Honma and his team spent over a year developing computer programs to process the image. 14 months after the observations were made, the preparations were finally in place. The computer programs could now be used for the actual imaging process to see the first likeness of a black hole. (keys tapping) As the data processing continued. Whoa.<v ->Wah! (people laughing) (people clapping) (speaking in foreign language) This is the clarified image of the black hole that Honma’s team produced. At the same time, teams overseas used entirely different methods to perform the same clarification process. If their results matched those from Japan, it would confirm that a black hole had been accurately captured. (mysterious music) (gentle music) The results, a perfect match.
At long last, we were able to see a true image of a black hole. (ethereal music) The first image of a black hole captured by humankind. The black part in the middle, within the circle, is the black hole itself. It has a diameter of 40 billion kilometers, 25 billion miles across. This super massive black hole would fill an area as large as the orbit of Pluto around our sun. The black hole is surrounded by a ring of bright light, but black holes are supposed to be entirely dark and emit no light. What’s the explanation? the strong gravity of a black hole draws in gas from the surrounding area. (dramatic music) The gas spirals in as it moves closer to the black hole. It accelerates as it nears the center. This causes friction that raises the temperature of the gas, which emits light. (forceful music) Scientists also noted that the brightness of the light was different on the top and bottom.
The bottom part is brighter because the gas is moving toward us. (dramatic music) This is what Honma believes a black hole might look like. Seen from the Earth, the gas is rotating with a vertical orientation. The temperature of the bright part is 6 billion degrees Celsius. That’s nearly 11 billion degrees Fahrenheit, 400 times hotter than the center of the Sun. We used to think a black hole could never be seen, but because it draws in surrounding gas, it emits an intensely strong light. (gentle music) The world first learned of the existence of black holes as a result of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Published in 1915, it explains the essence of gravity. According to Einstein, objects with large mass warp space in their vicinity. The nature of gravity is that these warps influence the movement of other objects. The German physicist, Karl Schwarzschild, further elaborated this theory. Schwarzschild reasoned that as the mass of a star increases, the warp in space grows stronger until light itself cannot escape. In short, he predicted the existence of black holes. (dramatic music) In 1971,(star dinging) an object of extremely large mass that could not be seen was discovered in the constellation Cygnus. This was the first discovery of a black hole. It is now believed that there is a massive black hole at the center of most galaxies, including the Milky Way.
More than 40 years ago, Martin Rees at the University of Cambridge in England was the first scientist to predict the presence of black holes at the center of galaxies. My interest is to understand the evolution of the universe, and from a hot, dense beginning, to this present state, it was hard to avoid the idea that when some kind of runaway process happened in the center of a galaxy, it would end up leaving a black hole. (awe-inspiring music) Rees proposed several possible ways for gigantic black holes to form. One thesis is that gas coalesced at the very early stage of the universe, (gas whooshing)creating clumps of enormous mass without ever becoming stars. (gentle music) It is estimated that there are hundreds of billions of these giant black holes in the universe. It was the image of one of these black holes that scientists were finally able to capture. Rees had pursued the study of black holes on a theoretical basis.
That a black hole had actually been observed represents major progress, he believes. It was a great achievement. It is the sharpest image we have of the central region of a galaxy. So I think it’s wonderful that we achieved so much in understanding how our universe has evolved from a hot dense beginning about 13.8 billion years ago, into what we see around us. Black holes were not simply eccentric heavenly bodies, they were lead actors directly involved in the evolution of the universe. Scientists are finally beginning to see the big picture. Astronomers hope to unveil the relationship between black holes and the history of the universe. One of those scientists is Yoshiki Matsuoka, who might be dubbed a black hole hunter. (soft music) For his observations, Matsuoka uses a telescope that stands 4,200 meters above sea level on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The Subaru telescope.
This giant telescope has a wide field of view that can observe large swaths of space with high resolution. (ethereal music) Matsuoka studies the early stages of the universe by making observations in the deepest areas of space, billions of light years away. The distance light travels in a year is called one light year. When we observe an object one light year away from Earth, we see light that was emitted one year ago. In other words, we see that object as it appeared one year in the past. To look 10 billion years into the past, we observe objects that are 10 billion light years away. The universe was born 13.8 billion years ago. Matsuoka is hunting for a black hole from shortly after that time. (tense music) How does he actually conduct the search? One telltale sign is an object called a quasar. A black hole is concealed in its core. The black hole itself cannot be seen, but because it absorbs large amounts of surrounding gas, bright light is vented that appears red from earth. This is a quasar. Scientists search for areas where there are few stars in the foreground, so they can get an unobstructed view into the depths of space. (soft music) Is this simply a nearby red star, or is it a distant quasar? That determination is made by analyzing the light from the object and accurately calculating its distance. Matsuoka once spent 150 days without finding even one quasar. What about the object he found today? Using the position of the white line to measure the distance to the object. (soft music) The quasar they found that day existed nearly 13 billion years ago, shortly after the birth of the universe.
A black hole was hidden there. What was particularly surprising was its brightness. This ancient black hole, when compared to the black hole in the galaxy M87, was emitting 10,000 times more energy, a monster black hole. In the past five years, Matsuoka and his team have identified about 100 black holes from the early stages of the universe. These giants emitted tremendous energy, shining more intensely than any object in the universe today. Why were ancient black holes so fiercely active? So monstrous? (dramatic music) The universe originated with the Big Bang. In the period immediately after, the universe was smaller than it is now, with dense concentrations of gas. Black holes swallowed up this gas and radiated intense light. Their overwhelming presence made them a dominant force. (forceful music) Black holes not only emit powerful light, but also engage in other surprising behavior. (dramatic music) Eduardo Banados is another black hole hunter. In 2018, he discovered a quasar from the time period soon after the Big Bang.
When he analyzed it in detail– We got these images, and basically all the radio emission was coming from this one object. And that was incredible. We see a very central, a very bright central source. And then we have these two jets coming out of the central source. And until now this is the most clear evidence that even in the most distant quasars, in the very early universe, powerful radio jets exist. the black hole is within the light at the center and to the left and right, it appears that gigantic clumps of light have spewed from the core. The distance from one end to the other is as far as 5,000 light years. (drum pounding) This is a visualization of the phenomenon. The bands of light are called jets. (dramatic music) They are thought to be composed of gas, spewing from the core of the black hole. (jets roaring) In quick succession, similar jets were found to be spewing from other ancient black holes. It turns out the black hole from the galaxy M87, captured by those eight telescopes across the globe, also had these jets. (dramatic music) At the time when that now famous image was captured, another image was also recorded. The scientist in charge of the second image is a colleague of Honma, Kazuhiro Hada. (ethereal music) While the worldwide observation project concentrated on the black hole itself, three East Asian countries cooperated to make observations on a wider expanse surrounding the black hole.
The resulting image showed two streaks of smoky light. These were M87’s jets. While a black hole is supposed to swallow everything, why are large streams of gas spewing out of it? (gentle music) What takes place in the immediate vicinity of a black hole? One scientist studying this mechanism is Ken Ohsuga at the University of Tsukuba. (keys tapping)(exciting music) He simulated a black hole on a computer, calculating its behavior based on the laws of physics. The results showed that the large amounts of gas swirling around a black hole create a phenomenon of tremendous force. Gas revolves around a black hole at rapid speeds. The resulting friction creates high temperatures, and a strong magnetic force develops. The high speed revolution wraps lines of magnetic force around the black hole and energy builds up within them. When that energy reaches a level that can no longer be contained, the lines of magnetic force seek to escape and spring out, above and below the black hole. This causes gas in the vicinity to spew forth with tremendous speed in the form of jets.
That’s not all. The simulation depicted further phenomena as well. In addition to the jets that rocketed forth above and below the black hole, gas was actually pushed out in other directions as well. (curious music) The understanding that black holes dispersed large quantities of matter provided a clue to their true role in the formation of the universe. (dramatic music) (gentle music)(speaking in foreign language) In April 2019, one scientist in particular watched with intense interest as news of the black hole image was announced. In Arizona.(people clapping) Aurora Simionescu of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research. She had already been paying attention to the M87 black hole. I do think this is going to help, but it is a bit soon to know exactly how. Maybe we need to have a bit more observations of how this works, but. (bike rattling) Simionescu is a trailblazing astrophysicist who travels the world researching black holes. (gentle music) Born in Romania, she was a prodigy who won the International Physics Olympiad at age 17. After studying physics at a university in Germany, she has been engaged internationally in her research. At age 30, she published a paper in the prestigious journal “Nature” and is currently one of the world’s premier black hole researchers. It tends to be so dense that the only thing that it can be is a black hole.
She is attempting to use black holes to explain the great mystery of how the universe evolved into its current configuration. Simionescu has always been intrigued by the ultimate question of why we exist in the universe. I think solving problems in science is a little bit like solving a puzzle. Sometimes you’re lucky the first time, but sometimes you have to try. You have to try several times until you manage to do the measurement that you, that you wanna do. Finished. Her search for the pieces of the puzzle continued. In 2013, she came to Japan to participate in a project of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. Using the Suzaku X-ray astronomy satellite, she made a major discovery that startled scientists. (soaring music) We are looking at the observation that we did with the Suzaku satellite of the Virgo cluster. And each of these little squares over here is one observation with Suzaku. So in total, we had, I think 65 different times that the Suzaku satellite looked at this place, this place, this place, this place, this place on the sky. I thought it’s a very beautiful result. I think it was a bit unexpected. (gentle music) Simionescu focused on the distribution of chemical elements in the vicinity of galaxy M87. This is the data from the X-ray observations. The shape and size of the wave reveals which elements are present and their concentration.
This wave shows signs of iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur. With iron given a value of 100, the concentration of other elements were compared. What surprised Simionescu was that this ratio of elements is nearly the same throughout the universe. At the center of M87, crowded with stars, at the edge of the galaxy cluster, where there were few stars, in another galaxy, and in our solar system, the same elements in the same proportions. Until then, it was believed that the ratio of elements would vary across the universe. Simionescu’s discovery overturned one of astronomy’s fundamental assumptions. What could possibly explain this stunning uniformity throughout the universe? (water splashing) We add some ink to the water. The water is space in the universe. The ink represents the elements. And so they’re very unevenly spread throughout the water right now. Well, how do we make the distribution uniform? (soft music) (water splashing)(stick clinking) (uplifting music) And now we have a uniform abundance. Everything is exactly the same everywhere, and that’s exactly what we observed.
Simionescu believes there must have been something that stirred the universe and made the distribution of the elements uniform. (dramatic music) Scientists have begun to learn more about where and how the elements that make up the various forms of matter originated. NASA’s airborne observatory, SOFIA, is on the front lines, making groundbreaking observations. An infrared telescope, built into a modified Boeing 747, has made a series of discoveries. It flies into the stratosphere at an altitude of about 13 kilometers. There, it can observe celestial bodies free of the distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. On this day, observations were made of the bright, active galaxy M82, a site that produces chemical elements. In fact, not all of these elements existed at the beginning of the universe. (explosion blasting) Right after the Big Bang, there were primarily only two elements, hydrogen and helium. (gentle music)(gas fizzing) Soon, gas began to coalesce into stars that burned fiercely. Inside those stars, elements were produced.
Nuclear fusion took place, bonding hydrogen and helium to create other elements such as oxygen and calcium. (elements clanging) The life of many large stars ended in supernova explosions that scattered these elements across the universe. (mysterious music) This direction is the– On this day, they observed the element argon, which exists in the air on Earth and is used in fluorescent lights. When you have really intense star formation like this, these are factories, for all of the big elements that you want. (soft music) How were the elements created? Answering that question goes a long way towards solving the origin of life. The elements that comprise our bodies are all made inside stars as part of a nuclear burning during their lifetime. Calcium for your teeth, iron for the hemoglobin in your blood, and there are many, many other elements that you need, that human beings need to function. They’re all produced in supernovae. Of the elements scattered through the universe by supernovae, some 80, including oxygen, carbon, and calcium are present in the human body. Martin Laming is studying how these elements are distributed after supernova explosions. (soft music) An X-Ray space telescope was used to observe the supernova remnant known as Cassiopeia A. Calcium is shown as green, iron as purple, and sulfur as yellow.
All are essential to life, but when they were violently expelled, they ended up as separate clumps scattered across the universe. With such distance between the elements, life could never develop. Yet it did. (gentle music) Scientific findings are revealing how. (waves crashing) Another surprising discovery has been made about the elements that comprise the human body. We now know that the number of stars that produce chemical elements varied during different eras in the history of the universe. Piero Madau at the University of California studies the number of stars that were created in the ancient universe. The Hubble Space Telescope studied galaxies both near and far, crossing the full range of ages. These examinations were combined with various other observations, and the data for a large number of galaxies was analyzed. This shed light on how many stars were formed, and when. On the vertical axis of the graph, the higher positions reflect eras when star formation was most prevalent. On the horizontal axis, moving to the right takes us into the distant past. The data revealed that there was a peak era for star formation. We know now from observation that the peak of the star formation rate in the universe, occurs about 4 billion years after the Big Bang. And after that, the rate of star formation starts decreasing.
There is less of a supply of fuel for a star to be born. (dramatic music) The universe 10 billion years ago was far different from the universe today. Stars were actively forming and collapsing, filling the early void and creating mass. 10 billion years ago, that rate was 20 solar masses per year, 30 times higher, 20, 30 times higher than it is today. So lots of new stars being born, lots of supernovae exploding, following the collapse of massive stars. It was a violent universe as opposed to quieter, calmer universe that we are used to see around today. (dramatic music) In the universe 10 billion years ago, here and there, gas was coalescing and forming stars at a pace dozens of times faster than today. Stars also died quickly, causing supernova explosions and creating vast quantities of chemical elements. It is believed that most of the elements that comprise our bodies were produced during this time, but how did those elements spread through the vastness of the universe? (supernova whooshing) (gentle music) Aurora Simionescu was especially interested in data showing the peak formation of chemical elements 10 billion years ago. It showed a remarkable correspondence to a separate set of observations by various countries. These were studies of the brightness of quasars across a variety of eras. On the vertical axis, higher positions indicate brighter light.
In other words, times when black holes were more active. On the horizontal axis, moving to the right again takes us into the distant past. Black holes were most active during the same period, 10 billion years ago. So for me, when I first learned about this, I also thought it’s a very interesting coincidence. But then if you think about it, if both of these have to do with the amount of gas that you have, when you think about it more deeply, then you start to realize that actually, these two things are connected. Simionescu believes that this era 10 billion years ago is when elements were stirred up in the universe. The force that did the stirring was none other than the black hole. (dramatic music) Steven Allen at Stanford University has been studying black holes for many years. He too believes they were the driving force mixing the cosmic cocktail. The only mechanism that we could think of that could do this, that could throw the heavy elements out fast enough so that they would get far enough into intergalactic space is black holes. Supermassive black holes are incredibly efficient engines, at driving heavy elements out into intergalactic space. Is it possible to prove this hypothesis? In fact, there was a global effort to produce a computer simulation of the beginnings of the universe. One of those working on this project is David Barnes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Based on observations, his simulation starts by distributing gas across a newborn universe. It then projects how the laws of gravity and electromagnetic force will transform the cosmos over the eons. (vibrant music) And then these days, there are many hundreds, possibly a few thousand people working on the IllustrisTNG simulations and looking at all aspects of science. These jets from black holes are critical for reproducing the universe we all see. Without these jets, galaxies would have more gas than we see, they’d have more stars than we see. (dramatic music) This is the universe 13 billion years ago, as simulated in the supercomputer. (soft string music) It was smaller than today and very dense. 1.5 billion years later, gas steadily coalesces through its own gravity. (dramatic music) Bright white light comes from clusters of stars, the galaxies. Then 2 billion years after the formation of the universe, from the black holes at the center of galaxies, gigantic jets emerge. Let’s take another look. (dramatic music) The length of the jets is 1.8 million light years, a colossal size, far larger than the galaxy containing the black hole. The gas that is thrust outward by the jets is incorporated into other galaxies. (soft music)(clock ticking) So inside every, essentially, you’ve got a element of gas that we have in the simulation, we track 11 different chemical elements.
And so every time you see a fast outflow, what you’re seeing is the release of chemical elements from the very center of galaxies out into their sort of outer reaches. (soft music) Galaxies and black holes continued to form one after another. The powerful jets stirred the universe. The simulation confirms that the jets played a key role in mixing the chemical elements in the ancient universe. We have begun to understand how black holes in the early stages of the universe are linked to life on earth. (awe-inspiring music) Most of the chemical elements that our bodies are made of were created between 10 and 12 billion years ago, and they were spread into all of the corners of the universe because of the power of black holes. Well, probably I would say the supernovae are the mother and the black holes are the father of life in the universe. Let’s take a grand voyage to those black holes that made possible our lives on earth. 10 billion years ago, the universe was smaller, about 1/3 the size it is today. (stars whooshing) (dramatic music) (gentle music) (explosion blasting) Stars were born one after another, then died in massive explosions. (explosions blasting) The chemical elements produced by the stars were scattered unevenly through space.
That’s when events took place that would trigger the origin of life. (winds blustering) (gentle piano music) The key role was played by super massive black holes at the center of galaxies. These are not the dark celestial bodies suggested by their name. They are cloaked with gas that emits bright light and they spew forth large amounts of matter that takes the form of these jets. (ethereal music) The elements essential to life are stirred together and carry to the far reaches of the universe. This led, eventually, to life on earth. We are the stuff of stars, and our bodies contain remnants of the dramatic events that convulsed the universe 10 billion years ago. (dramatic music) This is an X-Ray observation satellite, slated for launch in 2022. It will have a sensitivity 30 times greater than existing telescopes. Aurora Simionescu expects its observations to revolutionize our understanding of black holes.
For the future of my research, I hope that we will understand much better the role that black holes are playing in distributing the chemical elements that are necessary for the existence of life throughout every corner of the universe. (awe-inspiring music) Many mysteries still remain concealed within the black holes in space. These will be the keys to unlocking the secrets of the history of the universe, and the origins of life. (soaring classical music)