Space

June 4, 2012

Giant black hole kicked out of home galaxy

Tags:

System CID-42, located about four billion light years away.

Astronomers have found strong evidence that a massive black hole is being ejected from its host galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour.

New observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory suggest that the black hole collided and merged with another black hole and received a powerful recoil kick from gravitational wave radiation.

“It’s hard to believe that a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times the mass of the sun could be moved at all, let alone kicked out of a galaxy at enormous speed,” said Francesca Civano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the new study. “But these new data support the idea that gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of space first predicted by Albert Einstein but never detected directly – can exert an extremely powerful force.”

Although the ejection of a supermassive black hole from a galaxy by recoil because more gravitational waves are being emitted in one direction than another is likely to be rare, it nevertheless could mean that there are many giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies.

“These black holes would be invisible to us,” said co-author Laura Blecha, also of CfA, “because they have consumed all of the gas surrounding them after being thrown out of their home galaxy.”

Civano and her group have been studying a system known as CID-42, located in the middle of a galaxy about 4 billion light years away. They had previously spotted two distinct, compact sources of optical light in CID-42, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

More optical data from the ground-based Magellan and Very Large Telescopes in Chile supplied a spectrum (that is, the distribution of optical light with energy) that suggested the two sources in CID-42 are moving apart at a speed of at least 3 million miles per hour.

Previous Chandra observations detected a bright X-ray source likely caused by super-heated material around one or more supermassive black holes. However, they could not distinguish whether the X-rays came from one or both of the optical sources because Chandra was not pointed directly at CID-42, giving an X-ray source that was less sharp than usual.

“The previous data told us that there was something special going on, but we couldn’t tell if there were two black holes or just one,” said another co-author Martin Elvis, also of CfA. “We needed new X-ray data to separate the sources.”

When Chandra’s sharp High Resolution Camera was pointed directly at CID-42, the resulting data showed that X-rays were coming only from one of the sources. The team thinks that when two galaxies collided, the supermassive black holes in the center of each galaxy also collided. The two black holes then merged to form a single black hole that recoiled from gravitational waves produced by the collision, which gave the newly merged black hole a sufficiently large kick for it to eventually escape from the galaxy.

The other optical source is thought to be the bright star cluster that was left behind. This picture is consistent with recent computer simulations of merging black holes, which show that merged black holes can receive powerful kicks from the emission of gravitational waves.

There are two other possible explanations for what is happening in CID-42. One would involve an encounter between three supermassive black holes, resulting in the lightest one being ejected. Another idea is that CID-42 contains two supermassive black holes spiraling toward one another, rather than one moving quickly away.

Both of these alternate explanations would require at least one of the supermassive black holes to be very obscured, since only one bright X-ray source is observed. Thus the Chandra data support the idea of a black hole recoiling because of gravitational waves.

These results will appear in the June 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines April 21, 2014

News: Former Ranger breaks silence on Pat Tillman death: I may have killed him - Almost 10 years after the friendly fire death of former NFL star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, a fellow ranger admits that he may have been the one who fired the fatal shot.   Business: Ship study should favor existing designs -...
 
 

News Briefs April 21, 2014

Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules The U.S. Navy has endorsed changes to submarine sailors’ schedules based on research into sleep patterns by a military laboratory in Connecticut. With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance...
 
 

NASA cargo launches to space station aboard SpaceX resupply mission

Nearly 2.5 tons of NASA science investigations and cargo are on the way to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:25 p.m., EDT, April 18. The mission is the company’s third...
 

 

Second series of CASIS-sponsored research payloads launch to ISS

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space is proud to announce several sponsored research payloads have launched to the International Space Station onboard the Space Exploration Technology Corporation’s Dragon cargo capsule. This marks the second series of investigations headed to the station that are sponsored by CASIS, the nonprofit responsible for managing research...
 
 

Boeing to give California workers $47 million in back pay

PALMDALE, Calif. – Boeing will pay $47 million to hundreds of current and former Southern California employees who are owed back pay and benefits, a union announced April 18. An arbitrator ruled against the aerospace giant in January and laid down guidelines for the payments and interest, but it took months to cull through records...
 
 

NASA selects commercial crew program manager

NASA has selected Kathy Lueders as program manager for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Lueders, who has served as acting program manager since October 2013, will help keep the nation’s space program on course to launch astronauts from American soil by 2017 aboard spacecraft built by American companies. “This is a particularly critical time for...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>