MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (KHON2) — Astronomers from W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island said that they have discovered a possible candidate supermassive black hole.
They said it appears to be running away from its home galaxy as it hurtles through space at a velocity of four million miles per hour, and it has been going this speed for 39 million years.
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The astronomers from Yale University were using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to discover this unusual sight. Fixed in the galaxy as a very thin, almost straight streak of young stars and shocked gas, the astronomers are postulating that the this is evidence left in the wake of a black hole as it escaped.
“Something like this has never been seen anywhere in the universe,” said Pieter van Dokkum, professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University and lead author of the study.
As the black hole plows through intergalactic space, it compresses tenuous gas in front of it. This
precipitates the birth of hot blue stars.
“We’ve known for a long time that supermassive black holes exist, and it had been predicted for about 50 years that they could sometimes be ejected from galaxies. If confirmed, this would be the first evidence of a runaway supermassive black hole, proving this prediction,” added van Dokkum.
The long feature was first detected by the telescope; but, to get a better look at it, they used Keck Observatory’s Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS) and Near Infrared Echellette Spectrograph (NIRES).
The streak they discovered measured 200.000 light-years in length. It extended from a compact, active star-forming galaxy that is located 7.6 billion light-years from Earth.
Something interesting discovered was that the trail left behind by the black hole was nearly half as bright as the galaxy from which it was running. Astronomers said this indicates that the streak contains an abundance of new stars formed in the black hole’s wake.
“We think we’re seeing a wake behind the black hole where the gas cools and is able to form stars. So, we’re looking at star formation trailing the black hole,” said van Dokkum. “What we’re seeing is the aftermath. Like the wake behind a ship, we’re seeing the wake behind the black hole.”
Astronomers also indicated that they found a bright knot of ionized gas at the top of the wake. They believe this may be the black hole itself. This is supported by the fact that the galaxy from the black hole comes does not have a black hole at its center.
They said that there does not appear to be anything “actively feasting on material and generating powerful jets of energy that telescopes can detect. If the narrow wake of stars and gas was indeed created by a black hole dislodged from its home galaxy, astronomers have a likely explanation for its origin story.
The story goes like this.
Billions of years ago, there were two galaxies. Both galaxies contained a supermassive in their cores when they merged.
As the merger occurred, the two black holes whizzed around each other, creating a binary dance at the center of the newly merged galaxy.
As they danced, a third supermassive black hole from a different galaxy intruded on the couple’s dance.
The newly formed threesome created an unstable situation that generated enough velocity to torpedo one of the three black holes out of the galaxy.
At this point, van Dokkum’s team will be working to verify their discovery. Fortunately for the team, the streak that they discovered provides such straightforward data that it will not be difficult to locate future data.
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“Much of what we do is hypothesis testing, or refining previous measurements; but sometimes, there is this bolt out of the blue of a completely unanticipated discovery. That is rare, but it is the best!” said van Dokkum.