In light of yesterday’s post on black holes and their role in spreading heavy elements through the cosmos, the news out of Los Alamos provides an additional fillip of controversy re these enigmatic objects. A research team led by Philipp Kronberg has also been looking at clouds in deep space and their association with black holes, though what Kronberg’s team has identified is a distinctive object indeed. It’s a cloud of plasma more than six million light years across, one that may provide evidence for the role of black holes in triggering cosmic rays.

Here’s Kronberg on the subject:

“One of the most exciting aspects of the discovery is the new questions it poses. For example, what kind of mechanism could create a cloud of such enormous dimensions that does not coincide with any single galaxy, or galaxy cluster? Is that same mechanism connected to the mysterious source of the ultra high energy cosmic rays that come from beyond our galaxy? And separately, could the newly discovered fluctuating radio glow be related to unwanted foregrounds of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation?”

We’re getting more questions than answers here, which is usually the way with discoveries. The plasma cloud may contain several radio galaxies — active galaxies highly luminous in radio wavelengths — that contain black holes. If that is the case, the question becomes whether and how these black holes are converting their gravitational energies into magnetic fields and cosmic rays. The combined resources of Arecibo and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory produced this result, and an image comparable to that of a 1000 meter diameter radio telescope.

That last bit is amazing in and of itself. The paper is Kronberg et al., “Discovery of New Faint Radio Emission on 8° to 3′ Scales in the Coma Field, and Some Galactic and Extragalactic Implications” Astrophysical Journal 659 (April 10 2007), pp. 267-274 (abstract here).