May 30, 2023

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A supermassive black hole is fleeing the galaxy, with stars forming in its wake

Presumably, researchers have discovered a supermassive black hole that is flying away from its galaxy at great speed. In doing so, it leaves a chain of star-forming explosions.

It seems that a cosmic giant has escaped from his galaxy. A new observation from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a string of stars appearing to emerge from a galaxy about 11 billion light-years away. This could indicate that a supermassive black hole has erupted, leaving behind a series of star-forming explosions.

It’s a strange straight line of young blue stars, pointing toward the heart of this young galaxy. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” says the astronomer. Peter van Dokkum from Yale University, from Discover this rarity . “It looks like something was launched from that galaxy, and now something massive is hurtling through space at incredible speeds.”

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An enormous being

It is likely that the supermassive object is a supermassive black hole that lived in the center of the galaxy. At the end of the trail, van Dokkum and his colleagues found a clear concentration of ionized oxygen. These are oxygen atoms that have lost their electrons, making them positively charged. This indicates that the black hole slammed through the gas around it while traveling at a speed of about 1,000 miles per second. The star trail is more than 200,000 light-years across, which means that the black hole left the galaxy about 40 million years ago.

The most likely cause is the interaction between different galaxies, a well-known process that has been thought for decades to lead to the eruption of supermassive black holes, a prediction that may finally be confirmed.

When two galaxies merge, supermassive black holes sink into the center of the new, larger galaxy, as they orbit each other. But if a third galaxy joins in, it could disrupt that dance and catapult one or even all three black holes into interstellar space.

An image from the Hubble Space Telescope showing the 200,000 light-years “strange straight line” of young blue stars emerging from a young galaxy. Image: NASA, European Space Agency, Peter van Dokkum (Yale); Image processing: Joseph DiPasquale (STScI)

star formation

If the black hole flew away, it would stir up interstellar gas in its environment. In this way it begins to form stars, and with it a sparkling shoot. The researchers required additional observation time from several space telescopes, including Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), to confirm this scenario.

The trail of new stars could also teach us something about how invisible gas behaves around galaxies. “We see this star trail, and those stars were formed from material that was around that galaxy,” van Dokkum says. “This offers an unexpected benefit of learning about the giant reservoirs of matter in which galaxies reside.”

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