When you think about black holes, you think about destruction! But new research suggests that black hole radiation could help cook life on some planets.
Every star has a region around them where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist on a planet. That region is called the Goldilocks Zone.
But a new study suggests that even black holes have a similar region.
A swirling disk of gas and dust around a supermassive black hole is called active galactic nucleus (AGN). This disk forms when a black hole eats matter from its galaxy. As the matter swirls, it emits extreme amounts of radiation and light.
Previously, scientists thought this radiation could strip the atmospheres of any nearby planets. Therefore creating a “dead zone” around the black hole.
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However, researchers created some computer models of an AGN to look at the swirling disk of gas and dust. Using these models, they detected “galactic Goldilocks zones” surrounding black holes.
Simulations suggest that worlds with atmospheres that are thicker than Earth’s or those in the Goldilocks Zone might still stand a chance of hosting life.
If positioned at the right distance from the AGN, a planet’s atmosphere would remain intact. Meanwhile, the AGN’s radiation could break the atmosphere’s molecules into life-supporting compounds.
The radiation could even power photosynthesis which is the process by which most plants utilize the sun’s energy to create sugars. This would be particularly important for plants on rogue planets which are free-floating planets with no parent star to provide a light source.
Astronomers estimate there are about 1 billion such rogue planets drifting in the Goldilocks zone of a Milky Way-like galaxy.
For a black hole the size of Sagittarius A*, the Goldilocks region would extend about 140 light-years from the center of the black hole.
Contrary to previous estimations, scientists now think the damaging effects of AGN radiation would end at around 100 light-years away from a Sagittarius A*-size black hole.