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Massive Wandering Black Hole Found Moving Through a Galaxy

Here’s the next thing to keep you awake at night, scanning the skies with your telescope for telltale signs of Armageddon. Astronomers have discovered a wandering black hole that left its galaxy and is roaming the universe untethered, consuming anything and everything in its path. Oh, and it has over 100,000 times the mass of the sun. Are you awake yet?

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, astronomers from the University of New Hampshire found the wandering black hole when the telescope detected a massive and bright X-ray burst that usually signifies a black hole consuming another star. Sure enough, they found XJ1417+52, a “hyper-luminous X-ray source” according to the report on the discovery in The Astrophysical Journal. “Wandering black hole” sounds more ominous (and would make a great name for a band), especially since it appeared that XJ1417+52 did not belong to a galaxy but was on the loose in space.

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Magnified images of the galaxy and the wandering black hole

The researchers found the wandering black hole while analyzing data from the Extended Groth Strip – an area between the constellations of Ursa Major and Boötes (and another great name for a band) which contains at least 50,000 galaxies and is a good source of data on the early universe. It appeared in the strip near the lenticular galaxy SDSS J141711.07+522540.8 (GJ1417+52) located about 4.5 billion light years from Earth.

What created the wandering black hole and why is it footloose? NASA had this response based on images from the Hubble telescope:

The location and brightness of the optical source in the Hubble image that may be associated with XJ1417+52 suggest that the black hole could have originally belonged to a small galaxy that plowed into the larger GJ1417+52 galaxy, stripping away most of the galaxy’s stars but leaving behind the black hole and its surrounding stars at the center of the small galaxy.

So the wandering black hole is the result of a collision of galaxies that destroyed the smaller one, turning it into a black hole that travels through the larger galaxy and continues to consume constellations, creating the bright light and X-ray bursts picked up by the Chandra and XMM-Newton observatories.

The existence of wandering black holes has been theorized by astronomers, but this is the first real evidence of one. Fortunately, it’s 4.5 billion light years away.

That’s far enough away that it won’t mind if you steal the name and call your band The Wandering Black Holes. (We saw them open for the Extended Groth Strip!)