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This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveals an unusual sight: a runaway quasar fleeing from its galaxy's central hub. A quasar is the visible, energetic signature of a black hole. Black holes cannot be observed directly, but they are the energy source at the heart of quasars — intense, compact gushers of radiation that can outshine an entire galaxy. Credits: NASA, ESA, and M. Chiaberge (STScI and JHU)

This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveals an unusual sight: a runaway quasar fleeing from its galaxy's central hub. A quasar is the visible, energetic signature of a black hole. Black holes cannot be observed directly, but they are the energy source at the heart of quasars — intense, compact gushers of radiation that can outshine an entire galaxy. Credits: NASA, ESA, and M. Chiaberge (STScI and JHU)

Intergalactic travellers beware: Rogue black holes may be roaming about

A new study by an international consortium of astronomy researchers has found that massive black holes in the center of galaxies can get “kicked out” by gravitational waves. The result could mean there are supermassive black holes wandering freely through space, certainly a danger for space travelers.

Two U of M astronomers, Stefi Baum and Chris O’Dea are part of an international team that over many years has been obtaining Hubble images of the most powerful radio sources in the universe. They are co-investigators on the Hubble observing proposal that obtained images of the distant Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) 3C186, which revealed a displaced black hole.

O’Dea explains: “This result is important because it shows that mergers between two supermassive black holes can result in the merged black hole being given a strong ‘kick’ from gravitational waves. This kick can remove the black hole from the center of the galaxy and eventually from the galaxy itself.”

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