Hubble Spots Black Hole That Shouldn’t Exist, Leaving Experts Stumped

What Hubble recently found has left experts stumped.

There are many black holes spread across the universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is home to the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*.

But that on itself is not strange.

But what Hubble recently found left experts stumped.

While observing the NGC 3147 galaxy, scientists noticed something that theoretically, should not exist.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers observed a surprising thin disk of material surrounding a supermassive black hole at the center of the spiral galaxy known as NGC 3147.

Located in the constellation Draco, the spiral galaxy is located at a distance of circa 130 million light-years from Earth.

Given its apparent dimensions and current observations, astronomers believe that NGC 3147 is about 140,000 light-years across.

The NGC 3147 galaxy. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Hubble CC BY 2.0.
The NGC 3147 galaxy. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Hubble CC BY 2.0.

What’s so strange?

The disk surrounding the black hole should not be there.

Black holes in certain types of galaxies such as ‘NGC 3147’ are considered ‘hungry black holes‘, as there is not enough gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly.

The black hole at the center of NGC 3147 is estimated to have a mass of around 250 million times that of the Sun.

Therefore, it is disconcerting that there is a thin disk surrounding a ‘hungry’ black hole that imitates the much larger discs found in extremely active galaxies.

That’s why when astronomers spotted the black hole disc in such a low-luminosity active galaxy they were left perplexed.

But the disk spotted around the black hole has given astronomers a unique opportunity to put Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity to a test.

Observations have revealed that the disc of material surrounding the black hole is so deeply embedded in the black hole’s gravitational field that the light from the gas disk is altered.

New insight on Black Holes

This phenomenon offers astronomers an unprecedented view at the dynamic process that occurs close to a black hole.

And its something astronomers have never seen.

“We’ve never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity,” explained team member Marco Chiaberge of AURA for ESA, STScI, and Johns Hopkins University.

The researchers have revealed that Hubble measurements show that the disc’s material is speeding around the black hole at a speed faster than 10% of the speed of light.

Given such velocities, the gas seems to brighten as it travels towards our planet on one side and dims as it speeds away on the other side, a phenomenon known as relativistic beaming.

“This is an intriguing peek at a disc very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how we see the photons of light,” explained the study’s author, Stefano Bianchi, of Università degli Studi Roma Tre in Italy.

Using Hubble’s Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) instrument, the researchers studied the matter swirling deep within the disk.

The instrument made it possible to divide the light from an object into several, individual wavelengths, making it easier to determine the objects temperature, speed, as well as other characteristics with unprecedented precision.

The scientists have revealed that the STIS instrument was of great importance to observe and study the low luminosity areas around the black hole, blocking out the galaxy’s brilliant light.

“The type of disc we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist,” Bianchi revealed.

“It’s the same type of disc we see in objects that are 1000 or even 100 000 times more luminous. The predictions of current models for very faint active galaxies clearly failed.”

Hubble Space Telescope
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