NASA captured a picture of a black hole moving in space.
Written by Kevin C. Ness | published
Astronomers have detected what they believe to be a supermassive black hole creating a hot streak of stars as it hurtles away from the heart of a distant galaxy. As I mentioned AstronomyThe startling discovery, if confirmed, would be the first such anomaly ever seen by humans. It would also be evidence that parent galaxies can eject black holes, providing further insight into the movement of these regions of space-time through the universe.
The black hole was discovered by Peter van Dokkum of Yale University using the Hubble Space Telescope, showing that the decades-old scientific instrument is still providing new insights into the universe, despite the creation of the highly-resolution James Webb Space Telescope. But how does a telescope even take a picture of something that doesn’t emit light? How do we even know a black hole exists?
Black holes can be seen in space because of their accretion disks – superhot vortices of gas and dust that emit a great deal of light and swirl around the voids of space. In this case, the black hole was also detected by a light trail that was initially thought to be an imaging artifact. However, the line was still visible when van Dokkum and his team factored in cosmic rays that could have created the artifact.
Instead, the streak appears to be a string of hot blue stars trailing the black hole, meaning the space void is orbiting new stars as it travels at supersonic speeds away from the parent galaxy. The line could also be an astrophysical jet – an outflow of ionized matter is not an uncommon sight, but the intensity of the light increases the farther the black hole is from the galactic core and lacks the typical scattering seen in these jets. This leads the researchers to conclude that they are seeing a streak of new stars.
How the newly observed black hole phenomenon works is not yet fully known, but it appears that the high velocity of the vacuum is colliding with the gas in front of it, causing stars to form. The process appears to have started about 50 million years ago when the supermassive black holes of two galaxies began orbiting each other. It appears that later, when a third galaxy joined, the resulting interaction led to one of the galaxies’ black holes – 20 million times the mass of our sun – blasted off in one direction while the other two galaxies went in the opposite direction.
All observations of a black hole will require further research, but the findings, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters On April 6th exciting. This discovery will be explored further by the team with follow-up observations by the James Webb Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s flagship X-ray telescope. If the research they have done so far in these probes is confirmed, it will give astronomers fascinating new insight into the interactions between galaxies and their black holes, as well as the formation of stars across the universe.
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