NASA has warned that there’s an ‘invisible monster on the loose’, in the form of a ‘runaway’ black hole barrelling through the universe .
If the supermassive black hole were in our solar system, it could travel the 237,674 miles from Earth to the Moon in just 14 minutes due to how swiftly it is tearing through the universe.
Its trail of stars, which is 200,000 light-years long and twice the diameter of the Milky Way, weighs as much as 20 million suns. A study led by Yale University summarized the data regarding the potential black hole.
‘We think we’re seeing a wake behind the black hole where the gas cools and is able to form stars,’ said study lead author Professor Pieter van Dokkum.
‘So, we’re looking at star formation trailing the black hole.’
While you might imagine a black hole gobbling up stars ahead of it, analysis with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found that this isn’t the case.
Instead, the black hole, which is 7.5 billion light-years from Earth, is ploughing into gas in front of it, triggering star formation.
‘What we’re seeing is the aftermath,’ Professor van Dokkum said. ‘Like the wake behind a ship we’re seeing the wake behind the black hole.’
Hubble’s images show that the black hole lies at one end of a column, which stretches back to its parent galaxy.
The outermost tip of this column contains a ‘remarkably bright knot of ionised oxygen’, which the researcher suggest is probably the result of heat from the motion of the black hole.
‘Gas in front of it gets shocked because of this supersonic, very high-velocity impact of the black hole moving through the gas,’ Professor van Dokkum added.
‘How it works exactly is not really known.’
The scientist stumbled across the black hole while scanning images on Nasa’s Hubble telescope for globular star clusters in a nearby galaxy.
‘I was just scanning through the Hubble image and then I noticed that we have a little streak,’ he explained.