A distant galaxy cluster was expected to have a supermassive black hole at its centre, but it appears to be missing as researchers attempt to uncover the mystery.
We’ve all been confused when something isn’t where it should be, but missing something that has a mass of between three and 100 billion times that of the sun is an odd issue. This unique situation is something that NASA has discussed, and that scientists are attempting to answer.
According to observations made between 1999 and 2004, the black hole was expected to be in the galaxy cluster Abell 2261, which is about 2.7 billion light-years from Earth, but it seems something unusual has happened in distant space. Recently, astronomers have not been able to detect the black hole that’s supposed to be at the core of the galaxy.
Astronomers from West Virginia University used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope to find the black hole. However, it’s gone missing. It is believed that almost all large galaxies have a supermassive black hole within them, and the one that astronomers were searching for was thought to be one of the largest on record.
As a result of the disappearing black hole, scientists have begun theorising what may have happened. The black hole may have been forced out of the galaxy during the merging with another galaxy. This is known as a ‘recoiling black hole’, and it would have left a giant galaxy in its wake. There are also theories that the black hole merged with another entity.
Scientists believe it is possible that, as two galaxies merged, two supermassive black holes could have absorbed each other and created an even bigger supermassive black hole that is now the core of an even bigger galaxy. This process has been seen between much smaller black holes previously.
A third theory has been presented by West Virginia University team leader Sarah Burke-Spolaor in a paper that is set to be published in the journal American Astronomical Society. Burke-Spolaor believes there are two possible options; either there simply isn’t a black hole where scientists previously expected, or the black hole is present but it is not producing enough X-ray radiation to show up in Chandra observations.
While the final theory isn’t as exciting as black holes and galaxies merging, it is still a reasonable conclusion to a strange find. Whether we will ever find out what has happened to the supermassive black hole remains to be seen.
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