Astronomers from Harvard University have observed a supermassive black hole that is 230 million light years from Earth traveling at a speed of over 177,000 kilometers per hour. It displaces its mass, approximately three million times that of our Sun, through the center of a galaxy called J0437 + 2456. The cause of its movement, a strange phenomenon that is very difficult to observe, could be the merger of two supermassive black holes or even that it is part of a binary system.
Supermassive black holes are colossal structures located at the center of galaxies. They function as active nuclei, feeding on everything that happens around them through a thin rotating disk composed of dust and gas. It is the accretion disk, through which and thanks to the aggregation of smaller bodies, the supermassive black hole increases its mass in a huge way and with unusual speed.
According to a Press release, the unusual thing in this case is that one of these mysterious structures has been observed traveling at an incredible speed through the galaxy J0437 + 2456. It is a spiral galaxy of the Sb type, located approximately 230 million light years away from our planet, in the constellation of Taurus. The supermassive black hole positioned at its center was first detected in 2018.
Traveling black holes
Although there are different theories about the ability of these huge black holes to travel freely through space, reality indicates that it is very difficult to appreciate and capture them as they move. Consequently, the observation made by astronomers from the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, with the collaboration of scientists from other research centers, is truly transcendent and unique.
As for the explanation of the strange phenomenon, astronomers support two hypotheses in a study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal. One possibility would be that the supermassive black hole is merging with another. Consequently, the displacement would be due to said alliance or entanglement, in order to be correctly located for the alignment of both structures.
However, there is another more risky and exciting possibility: the presence of a binary system. It would be even weirder than having detected a supermassive black hole in motion to confirm the existence of a galactic nucleus made up of two black holes, since these kinds of structures are even more difficult to observe.
If it is a phenomenon of this type, the detected supermassive black hole would be one of the members of the pair, while the other would remain hidden due to its current positioning. The astronomers explained that the “traveling” black hole was found using a combined array of radio antennas, applying a technique known as VLBI interferometry.
This technology allows capturing emissions known as maser, produced by the supermassive black holes from the water that orbits around it. If the structure is a binary system, currently only one of the black holes would be developing the mentioned emissions. In addition, they allow us to measure the speed of a black hole with great precision.
From now on, astronomers plan to continue with the observations to be able to definitively confirm the nature of the structure located in the center of the galaxy J0437 + 2456. If it is confirmed that it is a binary system, it could shed light on crucial aspects around to the initial periods of formation of the universe and to the mechanisms related to the formation of galaxies.
A Restless Supermassive Black Hole in the Galaxy J0437+2456. Dominic W. Pesce et al. The Astrophysical Journal (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-4357/abde3d
Photo: Genty en Pixabay.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.