You know when you kind of want clear answers from a scientist? When they say things like, “There is a black hole that is three million times more massive than the sun. It’s moving around very fast. And we don’t know what it’s doing.” That’s some ominous, 2020 kind of news right there. Fortunately, this massive black hole is still quite a far distance from Earth, so it’s moody behavior isn’t likely to cause us much concern, even if researchers are calling it “disturbed”. Still, it raises even more questions about black holes that astronomers would love to get answers to. Like, what disturbed the black hole? How do they get so massive so fast? Why is it moving like that?
This news comes to us from a team of researchers recently published in The Astrophysical Journal. At this point, what we know of black holes is fairly limited. We know that black holes help in the formation of stars. We know that their place in a galaxy helps hold everything else in place. Many call them “gravity sinks“.
The team of astronomers behind this study were interested in how black holes move. They specifically wanted to check up on this particular body, which they first found in 2018. For the most part, their observations at large followed similar patterns. While gravity can cause all kinds of interesting movements in space, black holes don’t tend to do a whole lot. Most will follow their host galaxy’s guidelines. Everything in the galaxy is moving at about the same speed and in the same direction. A black hole fits in with the crowd if it’s even moving at all. Dominic Pesce was the lead researcher on this project. He told the Harvard Gazette that often, they’ll just “sit around”. However, that wasn’t true for this supermassive black hole. It’s moving around at 110,000 miles per hour, and it’s doing so in weird directions.
A lot of headlines are claiming that the supermassive black hole is moving around “aimlessly”. That may be true, and it may not. We just aren’t sure if it has a reason at this point. Calling the black hole “moody” seems fair. You could compare its behavior to a teenager. It’s unpredictable. While it seems to us to have no reasons for what it’s doing, this warrants further investigation.
At this point, we think that something may have disturbed the black hole to cause this behavior. One theory is that the supermassive black hole is actually a binary system, meaning it’s two black holes joined together. Gravity is then pushing and pulling inside this binary system, which could explain its change in velocity. It’s also possible that this supermassive black hole is from another galaxy. Now, in its new environment, the supermassive black hole is fighting the new set of circumstances it is finding itself in. With new gravity in its new surroundings, it’s doing new things.
Those are just theories. At this point, we’re looking at a supermassive mystery of a black hole. Currently, that’s not uncommon. There is a black hole eating a sun a day, and researchers are just trying to keep up with it. As our technology for studying space grows better at measuring what we’re seeing, we seem to be gaining more questions than answers. To scientists, that’s a good thing. The curiosities of space mean more to explore. Let it remain exciting, even if a little unsettling.