Hubble captures a black hole that was expelled from its galaxy at full speed

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In a groundbreaking observation, the Hubble Space Telescope has detected a supermassive black hole, approximately 20 million times the mass of our Sun, hurtling through intergalactic space at staggering speeds.

This black hole, moving so fast that it could travel from the Moon to Earth in just 14 minutes, has been expelled from the center of its host galaxy, leaving behind a trail of newly formed stars in a phenomenon never seen before.

Typically, supermassive black holes are known as cosmic ‘Pac-Mans,’ devouring everything in their path. However, this particular black hole, observed by Hubble, has been ejected so violently from its galaxy’s center that it’s moving too quickly to consume any surrounding matter.

Trail left by the supermassive black hole when it was ejected from its host galaxy. Credit: NASA , ESA, Pieter van Dokkum (Yale)/Joseph DePasquale (STScI).

Astrophysicists believe that at the heart of most galaxies in the cosmos resides at least one supermassive black hole. For instance, our Milky Way houses Sagittarius A*, a gigantic black hole at its core. Yet, the ejection of a black hole from its host galaxy is an unprecedented event.

NASA scientists, while searching for star clusters in a nearby dwarf galaxy, stumbled upon this never-before-seen phenomenon. They observed a luminous trail extending over 200,000 light-years – twice the size of the Milky Way – apparently hosting millions of newly born stars.

A five- step scheme showing two black holes in a binary association before a third black hole intrudes, breaking the balance at the center of the galaxy and sending one of the black holes into intergalactic space. Panel 6 shows the gas trail observed in the new study. Credit: Pieter van Dokkum.

Although black holes are invisible, astrophysicists have methods to detect their presence, such as Hawking radiation. In this case, Pieter van Dokkum, co-author of the study, explains, “We believe we are seeing a trail behind the black hole where gas cools and can form stars. So, we are witnessing star formation behind the black hole.”

This supermassive black hole, moving at 5.6 million kilometers per hour, approximately 4,500 times the speed of sound, is creating a wake of compressed gas, a breeding ground for new stars. This discovery is a result of what is believed to be multiple collisions of supermassive black holes. Astronomers suspect that the host galaxy was formed by the merger of two smaller galaxies about 50 million years ago, leading to the ejection of the black hole at such violent speeds.

This finding adds a new dimension to our understanding of the behavior of these cosmic giants and opens up exciting avenues for further research into the dynamic processes governing galaxies and their central black holes.


Hubble Site, Research Paper

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