By HELEN FLORES
The Philippine Star
A Filipina astrophysicist is making waves in the international community after leading the discovery of the largest number of "supermassive" black holes.
Reinabelle Reyes, a former scholar of the Science Education Institute (SEI) of the Department of Science and Technology, and her team discovered 900 black holes in nearby galaxies.
A black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful it prevents even light from escaping.
According to research, when something falls into a non-rotating uncharged black hole, the falling object is absorbed.
Stellar-mass black holes travel through our galaxy, the Milky Way, just like stars. Consequently, they may collide with the solar system or another planetary system in the galaxy, although the probability of this happening is very small, research said.
A team of scientists of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey recently found a large number of "hidden quasars" that are shrouded in light-absorbing dust and gas.
"We found that hidden quasars make up at least half of the quasars in the nearby universe, implying that most of the powerful black holes in our neighborhood had previously been unrecognized," SEI quoted Reyes as saying.
Reyes, a doctoral student at Princeton University, said their discovery shows that powerful black holes are more common in the last eight billion years of cosmic history than had previously been thought and that the relative numbers of hidden compared to normal quasars show how the appearance of dust and gas determine the presence of a hidden quasar.
"The large number of hidden quasars we discovered implies that most of the light emitted by quasars is actually obscured. Moreover, because the light from these hidden quasars previously had been unaccounted for, black holes turn out to be more efficient in converting the energy of in-falling matter into light than we had thought," she said.
Reyes graduated summa cum laude at the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Physics in 2005.
SEI director Ester Ogena said Reyes’ success in her career shows the quality of scholar-graduates the country produces and the vast potential the Philippines has in space science.
"We hope that our students would be able to get inspiration from Reyes and pursue a career in the sciences that will hopefully add to the roster of our great astronomers and space scientists," Ogena said.
Reyes encouraged students to venture into astronomy and astrophysics and pursue a fruitful and fulfilling career path in the sciences.
"Go for it! Astronomy and astrophysics are rich and exciting fields that offer plenty of opportunities for young scientists to contribute. Master the basics, keep up with the latest discoveries, don’t stop asking questions – and finding answers," Reyes urged.
SEI has laid the groundwork for a Philippine Space Education Program (PSEP) in the country following a designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-Paris to act as focal point for its space-education program and related activities in the Philippines.
The program also seeks to engage Filipinos in the exploration of space science and technology and the process of science in various disciplines in an effort to create an educated public and to generate future space science explorers.
Likewise, the PSEP aims to create awareness among students of career opportunities in the various fields of science and engineering, including space science, that would raise standards and address skills shortages towards national development.
It also aspires to establish linkages and partnerships with space organizations and institutions for possible assistance and collaboration in space science education programs and projects.
Reyes joins a cluster of Filipino scientists recognized by the international scientific community for their significant contribution, particularly in the field of space science.
Among them are the late Dr. Roman Kintanar, former director of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa); Christopher Go, amateur astronomer; and Dr. Josette Talamera-Biyo, a teacher of the Philippine Science High School in Iloilo City.
The International Astronomical Union last year named Minor Planet No. 6636 after Kintanar for his "long service" and "innumerable contributions" to the advancement of weather forecasting in the Philippines.
Last year, President Arroyo conferred on Go the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Champion for Life after he discovered the Red Spot Junior on the planet Jupiter in 2006.
Recently, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory named a minor planet after Biyo.