Astronomers have long assumed that supermassive black holes can travel through space, but finding data to support this theory has been difficult. Researchers from the Astrophysical Center | Harvard University and the Smithsonian have identified the clearest indication yet of a supermassive black hole in motion. Most supermassive black holes are not expected to move, the researchers say. It usually remains static.
Supermassive black holes are too heavy to move. Researcher Dominic Pesci and his team were working Watching A moving supermassive black hole over the past five years by comparing the velocities of black holes and galaxies. The team aims to determine whether the velocities of black holes are the same as those of the galaxies in which they lived.
The expectation is that the black hole and the galaxy will have the same velocity. If the speeds differ, this means that the black hole has been disturbed. During the search, the team first scanned ten distant galaxies and supermassive black holes in the core of galaxies. Specifically, the team focused on black holes that contain water inside their accretion disks. When water orbits the black hole, it produces a laser-like beam of radio light known as a maser.
The team used a technique known as very long fundamental interferometry (VLBI), which used a network of radio antennas to measure black hole velocity with extreme accuracy. Using this technique, the team determined that 9 out of ten supermassive black holes were at rest, but one of them appeared to be in motion. This particular black hole was 230 million light-years from Earth at the center of a galaxy called J0437 + 2456.
The mass of a black hole is about 3 million times the mass of the sun. Follow-up observations were performed using the Arecibo and Gemini observatories to confirm the preliminary results. The supermassive black hole is moving at about 110,000 miles per hour inside the galaxy. The exact cause of the movement is unknown, but the team believes the motion could result from the merger of two supermassive black holes, or the black hole could be part of a binary system.