“Nothing like it has ever been seen before, but it was captured accidentally by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope,” NASA said.
This is an artist’s impression of a runaway supermassive black hole, as per NASA.
American space agency NASA has warned that there is an “invisible monster on the loose”, in the form of a “runaway” black hole. According to a press release, the supermassive black hole is barrelling through the universe so quickly that if it were in our solar system, it could travel from Earth to the moon in just 14 minutes. It weighs as much as 12 million Suns and has left a never-before-seen trail of stars, measuring 200,000 light years, which is twice the diameter of the Milky Way.
“There’s an invisible monster on the loose, barreling through intergalactic space so fast that if it were in our solar system, it could travel from Earth to the Moon in 14 minutes,” NASA said in its press note.
“This supermassive black hole, weighing as much as 20 million Suns, has left behind a never-before-seen 200,000-light-year-long “contrail” of newborn stars, twice the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy. It’s likely the result of a rare, bizarre game of galactic billiards among three massive black holes,” the space agency added.
NASA explained that the black hole is pushing into gas in front of it to create the new star formation in a narrow corridor rather than eating up the stars ahead of it. It is assumed that the trail created a lot of new stars since it is almost half as bright as its host galaxy. “Nothing like it has ever been seen before, but it was captured accidentally by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope,” the space agency said.
The “invisible monster” is located at the end of the column of its parent galaxy, with a “remarkably bright knot” of ionised oxygen at the outermost tip. NASA scientists believe that either gas is being shocked and heated from the motion of the black hole or an accretion disk around the black hole is causing radiation.
“Gas in front of it gets shocked because of this supersonic, very high-velocity impact of the black hole moving through the gas. How it works exactly is not really known,” said Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University, as per the press note. “This is pure serendipity that we stumbled across it,” he added.
Mr Dokkum said that he was actually looking for globular star clusters in a nearby dwarf galaxy when he spotted the black hole. He described the trail of stars as “quite astonishing, very, very bright and very unusual”.
In order to figure out exactly what this bizarre image they were seeing was, Mr Dokkum and his team did a follow-up spectroscopy with the W. M. Keck Observatories in Hawaii, where they ultimately concluded they were seeing the aftermath of a black hole speeding through the galaxy.
According to NASA astronomers, the black hole was set free after two galaxies merged about 50 million years ago – which brought together two supermassive black holes at their centres. Then a third galaxy came with its one supermassive black hole, and three combined to form a “chaotic and unstable configuration”.
Researchers believe one of the black holes gained momentum from the other two and escaped out of its host galaxy, while the other two took off in the opposite direction.
Now, scientists said that the next step is to confirm the explanation behind the black hole using the James Webb Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory for follow-up observations.