Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has helped to pinpoint a supermassive black hole that is believed to be on the move.
Dubbed a ‘renegade’ black hole, this object contains over 160 million times the mass of our Sun and is located in an elliptical galaxy approximately 3.9 billion light years from our home planet. Researchers are interested in these types of black holes, as they help to reveal more and more properties of the mysterious objects.
It’s believed this supermassive object formed in the collision of two smaller supermassive black holes, thus the black hole may have ‘recoiled’. Recoiling is a process whereby the black hole is hurled from the galactic center, causing the ‘renegade’ moniker. The strength and the speed of the recoil, depends on the direction and rate of the two initially colliding objects.
An illustration of the renegade black hole in question. Shown at top left is the actual xray and optical view of the object. Credit: NASA/SDSS
Combined Power of Chandra + SDSS + Hubble
Astronomers were able to find the renegade object by painstakingly sifting through data from thousands of galaxies. They first used Chandra to identify galaxies that contain a bright X-Ray sources. Bright X-Ray sources are a common occurrence from supermassive black holes.
Then, the team used Hubble data to see if the sources revealed two peaks near their center in the optical image. “These two peaks might show that a pair of supermassive black holes is present or that a recoiling black hole has moved away from the cluster of stars in the center of the galaxy.”
Following up with SDSS, further light spectra data shows telltale signatures of the supermassive black hole presence. “The latter source shows the properties of a growing supermassive black hole and its position matches that of a bright X-ray source detected with Chandra (right image in inset). Using data from the SDSS and the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team determined that the growing black hole located near, but visibly offset from, the center of the galaxy has a velocity that is different from the galaxy. These properties suggest that this source may be a recoiling supermassive black hole.”