Magazine article Science News

Black Hole Found a Little Off-Center: Displacement Could Provide Clue to History of Galaxy M87

Magazine article Science News

Black Hole Found a Little Off-Center: Displacement Could Provide Clue to History of Galaxy M87

Article excerpt

Supermassive black holes are shiftier beasts than astronomers suspected. A new study finds that the giant black hole at the core of galaxy M87 somehow got displaced from the galaxy's center.

Off-kilter black holes "could represent a significant change in our understanding of supermassive black holes, galaxies and the ways in which they may interact with each other," said Daniel Batcheldor of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.

Sorting through old Hubble Space Telescope observations of M87's core, Batcheldor and colleagues found that its giant black hole, weighing the equivalent of about 6 billion suns, doesn't lie smack-dab at the galaxy's center. Rather it is displaced by about 22 light-years, possibly as the result of a merger with another as-yet-unknown supermassive black hole in the galaxy. Or the black hole might have been pushed aside by one of the twin central jets of gas and dust that emanate from the core of M87, Batcheldor reported May 25.

The finding, to be described in an upcoming Astrophysical Journal Letters, has also been posted online at arXiv.org.

The result is plausible, says Karl Gebhardt of the University of Texas at Austin. But finding M87's true center is difficult because the light associated with the black hole isn't entirely symmetrical and could be confused with the blobs of material ejected by the galaxy's jets.

Theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. …

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