Scientists Spot a “Runaway” Black Hole

Scientists Spot a

( – Experts estimate the number of galaxies in the observable universe at between 170 billion based on Hubble eXtreme Deep Field observations and two trillion based on more recent calculations accounting for faint, small, and distant galaxies which preclude observation. Additionally, researchers using computational analysis calculated some 40 quintillion — that’s 18 zeroes — black holes exist in the universe, about 1% of all normal matter. Still, astronomers have observed a “runaway” supermassive black hole (SMBH) speeding away from its host galaxy for the first time.

With 20 million times the mass of our Sun and traveling at 3.5 million miles per hour — about 0.522% of the speed of light — the runaway is dragging stars and compressed interstellar gas out of the galaxy and over a region more than 200 thousand light years, or about twice the diameter of the Milky Way, actively forming new stars in its wake.

Researchers theorize that SMBHs often sit at the center of galaxies and sometimes exist as stable binaries after galaxies collide. Although scientists have theorized that galaxies might eject a black hole, slingshotting it if a third SMBH approached a binary couplet, destabilizing the arrangement.

The image obtained via the Hubble telescope and confirmed using the Keck telescope in Hawaii provided the first observational evidence towards proving the theory. Lead study author Dr. Pieter van Dokkum of Yale and his team of researchers submitted a paper for peer review and publication in Letters, an astrophysics journal.

Researchers discovered the rogue black hole incidentally while using the Hubble to observe RCP 28, a dwarf galaxy located nearly 7.5 billion light-years from Earth. The SMBH appeared as a streak of light. After the team confirmed that the streak they saw wasn’t an astrophysical jet, a common feature of SMBHs, the properties of the light trail seemed to confirm that the black hole was escaping the host galaxy. The light streak emitted from the SMBH maintained a linear aspect rather than fanning out, and energy signatures in the streak’s tail strengthened rather than weakened.

Van Dokkum hopes his team’s observation will spark further research and eventual confirmation, but he stressed scientists would need to make more observations with additional telescopes to confirm the three-body interaction his team theorized.

Copyright 2023,