Supermassive Black Hole Observed ‘Wandering’ Through Space By Scientists
Astronomers have found evidence that a supermassive black hole is having a jaunt through space 230 million light-years away from Earth.
Scientists previously believed that it was possible for supermassive black holes to move, though it has long proved difficult to gather evidence to support the theory.
Dominic Pesce, astronomer at The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and lead author of the new study, explained that the majority of supermassive black holes are ‘usually content to just sit around’ as ‘they’re just so heavy that it’s tough to get them going’.
In a statement cited by CNN, the astronomer explained, ‘Consider how much more difficult it is to kick a bowling ball into motion than it is to kick a soccer ball – realising that in this case, the ‘bowling ball’ is several million times the mass of our Sun. That’s going to require a pretty mighty kick.’
In an effort to find a supermassive black hole on the move, researchers focused on nine different ones and compared the velocities of both galaxies and supermassive black holes to understand if they were the same. They expected both entities to have the same velocity; if not, it implies the black hole had been disturbed, Pesce explained.
Using a radio antenna network, the astronomers measured radio light signatures, known as masers, created by water orbiting the black hole in their accretion disks – disks full of material pulled towards the black hole.
In their research, published in The Astrophysical Journal, the astronomers found one of the 10 supermassive black holes appeared to be on the move. It is located at the center of a galaxy known as J0437+2456, and has a mass that is three million times that of the sun.
The team used follow-up observations to determine that the supermassive black hole is moving at 110,000 miles per hour within the galaxy.
They have come up with two theories as to why it might be on the move, with study coauthor Jim Condon, a radio astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia, saying it may be the ‘aftermath of two supermassive black holes merging’.
He explained, ‘The result of such a merger can cause the newborn black hole to recoil, and we may be watching it in the act of recoiling or as it settles down again.’
The second theory is that the black hole is one of a pair within the galaxy, with Pesce saying that scientists ‘have had a hard time identifying clear examples of binary supermassive black holes’.
The astronomer continued, ‘What we could be seeing in the galaxy J0437+2456 is one of the black holes in such a pair, with the other remaining hidden to our radio observations because of its lack of maser emission.’
Researchers will now have to rely on future observations to reveal the cause behind the supermassive black hole’s journey.
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