New research from Harvard astronomers provides clear evidence for the motion of a black hole


“We don’t expect most supermassive black holes to move; they are generally content to sit down, ”Pesce said in a statement. “They are so heavy that it is difficult to start them. Consider how much more difficult it is to kick a moving bowling ball than it is to kick a soccer ball, realizing that in this case, the ‘bowling ball’ is several million times the mass of our Sun. That is going to require quite a powerful kick. “

Pesce said in an email that the study’s findings are significant in two ways.

“On a superficial level, these findings are important in adding a data point to our currently nearly empty list of known mobile supermassive black holes,” he said. “Looking at a somewhat broader picture, these devices [black holes] they are evidence of the growth of a supermassive black hole in action. A supermassive black hole moving relative to its host galaxy is a strong indication that the system is about to or has recently experienced a binary supermassive black hole merger. “

In any scenario, the move provides “exciting indirect evidence for the reality” of supermassive black hole mergers, he said.

The black hole at the center of this study is in a galaxy called J0437 + 2456, 230 million light years from Earth. The mass of the black hole is three million times the mass of the sun.

The researchers looked at supermassive black holes at the center of 10 galaxies and tried to discern their speeds. In doing so, they found that one of the 10 black holes appeared to be in motion.

“The fact that we seem to have discovered a mobile supermassive black hole in such a small sample, especially when compared to the fact that there are previous searches that combed through orders of magnitude more objects and turned up empty-handed, implies that it may not be so weird after all, ”he wrote.

Pesce was quick to point out that he is not the first person to suggest that black holes may be in motion. He said it’s an idea that scientists have been considering for years.

The study was carried out in two stages, Pesce said. First, the researchers identified which galaxies could be potential candidates for having a supermassive black hole moving at their centers. In that phase, J0437 + 2456 was identified as a particularly promising candidate. From there, they “conducted dedicated follow-up observations of J0437 + 2456 with the Arecibo and Gemini North telescopes, both to improve the accuracy of the initial measurement and to ensure that we were not fooled by systematic effects that were particular to any one class. of measure, ”Pesce wrote.

Black holes are objects in space with such a strong gravitational pull that nothing can escape, according to NASA.

Charlie McKenna can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ charliemckenna9.

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