Astronomers Detect a Supermassive Black Hole on the Move – Unusual Motion Thus Far Unexplained

Scientists have long theorized that supermassive black holes can wander through space—but catching them in the act has proven difficult.

Now, researchers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian have identified the clearest case to date of a supermassive black hole in motion. Their results are published today (March 12, 2021) in The Astrophysical Journal.

“We don’t expect the majority of supermassive black holes to be moving; they’re usually content to just sit around,” says Dominic Pesce, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics who led the study. “They’re just so heavy that it’s tough to get them going. Consider how much more difficult it is to kick a bowling ball into motion than it is to kick a soccer ball — realizing that in this case, the ‘bowling ball’ is several million times the mass of our Sun. That’s going to require a pretty mighty kick.”

Pesce and his collaborators have been working to observe this rare occurrence for the last five years by comparing the velocities of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

“We asked: Are the velocities of the black holes the same as the velocities of the galaxies they reside in?” he explains. “We expect them to have the same velocity. If they don’t, that implies the black hole has been disturbed.”

Galaxy J0437+2456

Galaxy J0437+2456 is thought to be home to a supermassive, moving black hole. Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)

For their search, the team initially surveyed 10 distant galaxies and the supermassive black holes at their cores. They specifically studied black holes that contained water within their accretion disks — the spiral structures that spin inward towards the black hole.

As the water orbits around the black hole, it produces a laser-like beam of radio light known as a maser. When studied with a combined network of radio antennas using a technique known as very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), masers can help measure a black hole’s velocity very precisely, Pesce says.

The technique helped the team determine that nine of the 10 supermassive black holes were at rest—but one stood out and seemed to be in motion.

Located 230 million light-years away from Earth, the black hole sits at the center of a galaxy named J0437+2456. Its mass is about three million times that of our Sun.

Using follow-up observations with the Arecibo and Gemini Observatories, the team has now confirmed their initial findings. The supermassive black hole is moving with a speed of about 110,000 miles per hour inside the galaxy J0437+2456.

But what’s causing the motion is not known. The team suspects there are two possibilities.

“We may be observing the aftermath of two supermassive black holes merging,” says Jim Condon, a radio astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory who was involved in the study. “The result of such a merger can cause the newborn black hole to recoil, and we may be watching it in the act of recoiling or as it settles down again.”

But there’s another, perhaps even more exciting possibility: the black hole may be part of a binary system.

“Despite every expectation that they really ought to be out there in some abundance, scientists have had a hard time identifying clear examples of binary supermassive black holes,” Pesce says. “What we could be seeing in the galaxy J0437+2456 is one of the black holes in such a pair, with the other remaining hidden to our radio observations because of its lack of maser emission.”

Further observations, however, will ultimately be needed to pin down the true cause of this supermassive black hole’s unusual motion.

Reference: “A Restless Supermassive Black Hole in the Galaxy J0437+2456” by Dominic W. Pesce, Anil C. Seth, Jenny E. Greene, James A. Braatz, James J. Condon, Brian R. Kent and Davor Krajnović, 12 March 2021, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abde3d

Co-authors of the new study are Anil Seth of the University of Utah; Jenny Greene of Princeton University; Jim Braatz, Jim Condon, and Brian Kent of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory; and Davor Krajnović of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany.


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  • Please use term "extremely high density celestial object" instead of term "black hole" which is defined as a singularity of spacetime from Einstein's relativity theory while relativity theory has already been disproved. Special relativity uses Lorentz Transformation to redefine time and space but the newly defined time is no longer the physical time measured with physical clocks, but a fake time. Thus, there is no such thing called spacetime in nature, not to mention the existence of the singularity of spacetime.

    We know time is a concept abstracted from the status changes of physical processes such as the change of the view angle of the sun, the increase of the height of a tree, the distance that a car has driven, the biological age of a person, the number of cycles of a clock, etc. All the changes of the statuses of physical processes are the products of time and changing rates. The effect of time can never be shown without the help of a status changing rate. Every physical clock records the number of cycles of a periodical process and uses this number to indirectly calculate the elapsed time. The number of cycles is the product of time and frequency (i.e. changing rate). In special relativity, when observed from a stationary frame, relativistic time of a moving frame does become shorter but the relativistic frequency of a clock on the moving frame becomes faster to make the product of relativistic time and relativistic frequency unchanged compared with that of the stationary clock. That is, clock time is still absolute and independent of reference frames in special relativity. Thus relativistic time is not the clock time i.e. our physical time but a fake time and relativistic kinetic time dilation won't be found on any physical clock or any other physical process. Based on such a fake time, special relativity is wrong.

    • I am going to assume you used an AI translator, from a profoundly different language, perhaps Mandarin, and it didn't understand you. Or, it didn't understand English.

      Because what you wrote is stupid. Unmitigated bunk. Garbage. A waste of virtual ink. But expressed in a psudo-sophisticated vocabulary.

      Run that through your translator, backwards. Let me know if you 'get it'.

    • ? The established term is "black hole", which discovery gave last year's Nobel Prize in Physics [ ]. That is not defined as an (unphysical) singularity, anymore than point-like electrons in electromagnetism is, it is defined by its event horizon.

      "A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing—no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from it." [Wikipedia]

      Spacetime is the concept of a metric with Lorentzian signature - you may want to look it up - which follows from special relativity and is used in general relativity for the added description of massenergy and gravity. Black holes is an excellent example of a prediction which tests relativity well.

      As for the rest, it appears you don't understand relativity.

      Special relativity is just the expression of the Lorentzian signature which follows from the observation of a universal speed limit (the speed of massless particles such as photons in a vacuum). General relativity expands on that to make sure such universal laws are preserved.

      Special relativity concerns the description of particles interacting and observers passing each other. That means they may see effects such as time dilation and length contraction which acts to preserve the universal speed limit, and that they may not agree on simultaneity of events. It also means that distant observers that are not in causal contact may not agree on event sequences. But they all agree on physical laws, which we know are universal and which your ideas do not agree with.

  • Black holes (matter with a density of quarks) are born by the Center of Our Universe( matter density of strings ) and move away in spiral orbits. Black holes give birth to all the stars in their galaxies. When galaxies collide, it means that one of them no longer has a black hole - it gave birth to all the stars, lost mass and became a star itself. But at the same time she lost contact with the center of the universe and went into free swimming, where she collided with a neighbor.

    • You continue with your pseudoscience claims and self-promotion.

      This is a science site, and is not devoted to such anti-science.

      • It has always been so. All ideas go through 3 stages:
        1) this cannot be;
        2) there is something in it;
        3) I talked about it a long time ago.

        • All worthwhile ideas linger. Pseudoscience haven nothing to do with that, but the idea that they are worthwhile is something else entirely [ , ].

          "The Crackpot Index
          John Baez
          A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:"

          "20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories."

          "40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is."

          "50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions."

          • Science is at a dead end, in a dead end of the Big Bang theory, space curve and time curve)) I try to deduce it with the help of the Great Synthesis theory and the theory of gravitation.
            But you are so convincing me that I'm on the mountain of fools even higher mountain and you can see more from there))) We are waiting for your theory of gravity.

        • All worthwhile ideas linger. Pseudoscience haven nothing to do with that, but the idea that they are worthwhile is something else entirely [ ].

          "The Crackpot Index
          John Baez
          A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:"

          "20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories."

          "40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is."

          "50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions."

    • "Why do things spin?" Do photons spin? If so, why?

      That is a very generic question from a specific example - "accretion disks — the spiral structures that spin inward towards the black hole." And simple, generic questions often have long, complex application descriptions - as is the nature of physical laws. :-/

      In general then, objects may rotate or travel along a curved orbit and that can be described as having angular momentum. That can be conserved due to space being isotropic - has the same properties in any direction you look - same as linear momentum can be conserved because space is homogeneous - looks the same as you travel in some direction.

      Specifically here, the accretion disk has gas and dust traveling in orbits around the massive black hole. If they lose energy from collisions that heat them and they radiate the heat, they will migrate in a spiral towards the central black hole.

      Photons are particle in relativistic quantum field theory and their expression of angular momentum is complicated. The field is composed of wavefunctions - each photon is a localize wave packet rippling through the field and can be created and annihilated - and wavefunctions can be rotated and so has angular momentum. However, since the angular momentum is localized to the particle it becomes quantized as properties do in quantum physics. It also gets topological properties that are not seen in classical particles.

      A massive particle cannot travel at the universal speed limit and therefore its angular momentum helicity is not the same as its spin - if you pass such a particle its helicity appears to flip as it is traveling backwards relative to you, but its intrinsic spin remains [ ]. In a massless particle those are they same.

      The spin is a topological property of the field "action" that describes its physics, for instance the spin -1/2 fermion matter particles are interacting with the environment so you need to turn their wavefunctions two times around before you recover the identical particle ["Spin-½", Wikipedia].

      • "Photons are particle" - Photons are particles.
        " a localize wave packet " - a localized wave packet.

        By the way, momentum and angular momentum as well as spin are excellent example of Noether's theorem that describes physical laws as describing symmetries (and symmetry breakings) that implies conserved quantities. Spin is an expression of wavefunction rotational symmetries, the main difference being that the classical momentums applies to free classical particles in volumes of space as the system while the quantized, intrinsic properties are constrained to localized systems of wave packet action.

  • If this is your dissertation please reconsider! Sounds like an angry rant from a 5 year old...

  • For a population of 1.5 billion people, China has the least original, innovative discoveries,scientists or musicians of any Nation.
    Every concept of physics taught in Chinese universities came from the West.That is aggravating to many of the Borg-like chinese people.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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