Unbelievably Massive Black Hole Is Flying Through Space With Tons Of New Stars Behind It

A massive black hole seems to be trailing new, smaller stars in its wake.

By Lyndon Nicholas | Updated

black hole

When alternative rock group Muse wrote their hit “Supermassive Black Hole,” they probably didn’t have this latest news in mind. According to a recent article released by Live Science, astronomers have found a runaway supermassive black hole. What’s more is that it’s incredibly large, incredibly fast, and leaving a trail of newborn stars in its wake.

Lead scientist Pieter van Dokkum had this to say in the report which the article draws from: “From a detailed analysis of the feature, we inferred that we are seeing a very massive black hole that was ejected from the galaxy, leaving a trail of gas and newly formed stars in its wake.” 

Van Dokkum notes that there are a number of possibilities that could have led to this observation, but the most likely is what he calls a “slingshot.” “The most likely scenario that explains everything we’ve seen is a slingshot, caused by a three-body interaction,” van Dokkum said. “When three similar-mass bodies gravitationally interact, the interaction does not lead to a stable configuration but usually to the formation of a binary and the ejection of the third body.”

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It seems that the supermassive black hole has been ejected from its previous configuration because of the entrance of another similarly-sized black hole in the area pushing it out. Scientists posit that it was once part of something rare called a supermassive black hole binary. When a third supermassive black hole came into contact with this binary, it destabilized the configuration and ejected one of the occupants of the previous binary. 

The black hole seems to have broken free or been ejected from its home galaxy and is now traveling away from the center of its galaxy. The black hole was first observed using the Hubble Space Telescope. Researchers noticed a streak of bright light coincidentally while trying to observe RCP 28, a dwarf galaxy about 7.5 billion light-years away from Earth.

The streak observed measured over 200,000 light-years long and the black hole itself is estimated at 20 million times the mass of the Sun. It is also moving incredibly fast, moving at a blistering speed of 3.5 million mph. As scientists observed the black hole, they also noted that it was leaving a trail of gas in which new stars were actively forming. 

Scientists noted it as a bright line that pointed toward the center of a galaxy where a supermassive black hole would normally be. Most large galaxies host active supermassive black holes at their centers which launch what are called astrophysical jets, or chunks of materials moving at high speeds. 

Researchers were able to conclude that these weren’t astrophysical jets for a number of reasons. Firstly, the potential supermassive black hole was getting stronger as it moved away from the center of the galaxy from which it came, which is the total opposite behavior from the typical astrophysical jet. The trail also has remained relatively linear, something astrophysical jets also do not normally do.

Although it’s been theorized that this is a regular occurrence, this could be the first time that scientists have been able to actually observe this kind of behavior in black holes as opposed to in theory. Scientists will need to conduct multiple observations with a number of telescopes to confirm the existence of a black hole within the streak, but it is very likely. If corroborated, this discovery would help bolster longstanding theories about the movement of supermassive black holes.

As scientists are able to observe the event from multiple angles, they could discover new information about supermassive black holes that could change how we observe them in the future.