The terrifying black holes were traced to five quasars, or super-bright galactic cores, hundreds of millions of times heavier than our Sun. The quasars are located between 8.8 billion and 10.9 billion light years from Earth. At the centre of each galactic nucleus is a supermassive black hole, collecting vast quantities of cosmic dust and gas, spinning them at rapid speeds. In some cases, NASA said, the spinning discs of accreted material even approach the speed of light.
NASA said: “Like whirlpools in the ocean, spinning black holes in space create a swirling torrent around them.
“However, black holes do not create eddied of wind or water.
“Rather, they generate discs of gas and dust heated to hundreds of millions of degrees that glow in X-ray light.”
The hotter the dust and gas become, the more energy they lose in electrons taking the form of X-ray radiation.
The X-rays are then picked up by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which is a state-of-the-art space telescope.
NASA’s Chandra scans the universe in X-ray wavelengths, revealing pictures of space otherwise not visible to telescopes such as the Hubble.
The US space agency said: “Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and chance alignments across billions of light years, astronomers have deployed a new technique to measure the spin of five supermassive black holes.
“The matter in one of these cosmic vortices is swirling around its black hole at greater than about 70 percent of the speed of light.”
The astronomers used a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing to study the light coming from each quasar.
Gravitational lensing occurs when light passing through spacetime warped by a powerful source go gravity, slightly bends from its path.
The idea was theorised by the German physicist Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity.
In this case, NASA said the gravitational lensing of light has produced multiple images of each quasar.
NASA said: “The results showed that one of the black holes, in the lensed quasar called the ‘Einstein Cross’, is spinning at, or almost at, the maximum rate possible.
“This corresponds to the event horizon, the black hole’s point of no return, spinning at the speed of light, which is about 670 million miles per hour.
“Four other black holes in the sample are spinning, on average, at about half this maximum rate.”
The astronomers believe the supermassive black holes have grown to their current size over the span of billions of years of collecting cosmic material.