NASA image shows possible first-ever ‘rogue’ supermassive black hole, leaving a trail of newborn stars in its wake

black and white photograph of space shows a trail moving away from a bright white dot

A potentially supermassive black hole (lower left arrow) leaves a trail of stars (middle arrow) as it is ejected from a galaxy (upper arrow).NASA/ESA/Pieter van Dokkum et al./Astrophysical Journal Letters 2023

  • A NASA Hubble image may show the first runaway supermassive black hole ever discovered.

  • A trail indicating an object moving away from a galaxy indicates that a black hole has been ejected.

  • A rogue black hole may have generated a shock wave that created a trail of new stars, visible in the image.

The Hubble Space Telescope continues to make the first discoveries of its kind after more than three decades in space. His last? Observations of the first-ever supermassive black hole to disappear from its own galaxy.

That’s what a team of astronomers suggests in a new study posted online. The study has been peer-reviewed for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, according to Pieter van Dokkum, an astrophysicist at Yale University who led the new study.

Even experts not involved in the study are excited about the team’s results.

“The observations all fit this scenario,” Manuela Campanelli, an astrophysicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, not involved in the study but who has simulated runaway black holes in her research, told Insider.

The first possible picture of a ‘rogue’ supermassive black hole

two images show a distant brightspot galaxy with a faint trail going down and to the left

A trail of stars leaving a galaxy (the spot on the upper right of both images) and narrowing to a point on the lower left, indicating a runaway supermassive black hole.NASA/ESA/Pieter van Dokkum et al./Astrophysical Journal Letters 2023

What you see above are two images of the same thing that tell the story of what happened.

Look at the zoomed image on the right: the large spot at the top right is a galaxy. Then follow the faint line leading from it, which ends in a point at the bottom left. That’s where scientists think the runaway black hole is hiding.

Black holes are invisible by nature. The reason astronomers can “see” any black hole is because it is surrounded by a swirling hot disk of gas, stars and other cosmic material that is visible.

But the most fascinating part of these photos is the streak you see dragging behind the black hole. That’s what researchers noticed when they examined nearby stars.

They think the long tail emanating from the black hole is actually a trail of newborn stars, which formed after the black hole was ejected from its home galaxy and ripped through space, creating a shock wave that caused clouds of intergalactic gas to explode. plunged into stars. .

“I thought I made a mistake that there was a weird stripe in the image,” Van Dokkum told Insider. “It didn’t look like an astrophysical object at first. And then it turned out it was real. It was in other datasets too. And then I got excited.”

While black holes are notorious for devouring and destroying stars, this one also seems to create them.

Further observations, probably with the James Webb Space Telescope, are needed to confirm that the object in the picture is really a runaway supermassive black hole.

Why a supermassive black hole would go rogue

Supermassive black holes are mind-bogglingly dense objects with the mass of billions of suns, and scientists believe there is one at the center of every galaxy. Needless to say, it takes a lot of strength to kick one out of its home.

One such catastrophic event that could get the job done is if two galaxies collide and their central black holes merge. A black hole collision is one of the most violent, powerful events in the universe, and it could send a smaller black hole remnant into the void.

Astrophysicists have long theorized that black holes could go “rogue” or “run away” if other black holes push them out of their galaxies.

But no one has ever confirmed that there’s a black hole wandering through intergalactic space, let alone one super heavy black hole goes rogue.

And while the collision of two galaxies is the simplest explanation for a rogue black hole, that doesn’t seem to have happened here.

2 other black holes may have displaced it in a rare, violent event

Van Dokkum thinks this black hole had a particularly rare, dramatic, violent exit. Here’s his theory: two galaxies merged and their supermassive black holes collapsed, due to their enormous gravity.

That happens all the time. Hubble has photographed numerous merging galaxies, such as the one in the image below. The next step is what made this merger so weird.

hubble merging galaxies

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and K. Noll (STScI)

The team thinks a third galaxy has arrived, with a third black hole, and that gravity caused a complex dance of the three black holes, ending with one of them being ejected into the distance.

two colorful galaxies merging in space

A merging pair of galaxies captured by JWST.ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. Evans

Since then, over a period of 39 million years, the runaway black hole has been screaming away from its own galaxy at a speed of about 1,600 kilometers (nearly 1,000 miles) per second, according to Van Dokkum’s team’s calculations. For reference, at that speed, it would take you 25 seconds to circle the entire Earth.

Basically, this supermassive black hole (if it is) got a third wheel and was kicked out of its own home. Evidence for this third galaxy has yet to be confirmed, but the team is investigating a path they see on the far side of the galaxy, where they believe the other two black holes may have merged and then been ejected by the recoil.

“The photo really tells the story,” said van Dokkum.

That makes this event exceptionally rare, Campanelli said, because it involved three black holes instead of the conventional two theorists typically posit in a scenario like this.

Follow the trail of newborn stars – if it’s not just a jet

The other explanation for the mysterious trail in Van Dokkum’s Hubble image is quite common: jets of material shooting out from the centers of galaxies with highly active black holes.

But van Dokkum and Campanelli both say that’s unlikely, based on the shape of the trail in the new photo. Jets firing from galactic centers fan away from the galaxy, as the material shoots out from a point and scatters into the distance, like what’s shown in the Hubble image below:

pink cloudy jets shoot out from the galaxy

Spectacular jets powered by the gravity of a supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy Hercules A.Nasa Goddard

Instead, the trail in Van Dokkum’s Hubble image fans out direction the galaxy. It appears to be a trail of new stars that formed when the traveling black hole sent shock waves through the intergalactic gas.

Campanelli added that the galaxy’s compact and irregular shape is “typical” of galaxies created by mergers.

“If it turns out not to be real, I will be surprised,” said Van Dokkum. “If it’s not real, I think it’s actually a combination of some other gas clouds or something that seems to be aligned to look like a streak.”

Even though they’re invisible, there’s no need to worry about rogue supermassive black holes stalking us from other galaxies.

“We would have seen its effects if it was anywhere near us,” van Dokkum said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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