On Monday, astronomers found strong evidence that a massive black hole was being thrown out from its galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory suggested that the black hole had collided and merged with another black hole and gotten a kick from the wave radiation. “It’s hard to believe that a supermassive black hole weighting millions of times the mass of the sun could be moved at all, let alone kicked out of a galaxy at enormous speed,” said Francesca Civano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who led the new study.
Even though the event is a rare event, it could mean that there are many giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies. This could mean a lot for the fiction writer. Random black holes could be brought into stories and backed up with scientific evidence. “These black holes would be invisible to us because they have consumed all the gas surrounding them after being thrown out of their home galaxy,” says co-author Laura Bleca, also of the CfA.
Civano and her group have been doing research on a system known as CID-42, located in a galaxy about 4 billion light years away. Using NASA’s Hubble Telescope, they had seen compact sources of light previously. Using data from the ground based Magellan and Very Large Telescope in Chile, they supplied a spectrum that suggested the two sources in CID-42 were moving apart at 3 million miles per hour. Civano’s team thinks that two black holes collided and then merged into one giant black hole. The gravitational waves from the collision made a sufficiently large kick that pushed the supermassive black hole from it’s galaxy.
There are two other possible explanations for what is happening in CID-42. One possible explanation would be a collision between three supermassive black holes, with the lightest of the three being pushed out of the galaxy. Another possible idea is that CID-42 contains two supermassive black holes spiraling toward one another, rather then one moving quickly away. Both of these explanations would require at least one supermassive black hole to be very obscured, thus the Chandra data supports the black hole recoiling because of gravitational waves.
If you want more information regarding these tests, they will be published in The Astrophysical Journal on June 10th.
Information about the test came from NASA News release: 12-182.