Arguably, black holes are the most mysterious entities in the entire universe. So when one seemingly disappears before NASA’s eyes, it adds even more fascination to the strange objects.
According to NASA, a supermassive black hole with about 100 billion times the mass of our sun is nowhere to be found. A supermassive black hole lies at the heart of most galaxies, keeping them in check with its extraordinary gravitational pull.
Typically, the black hole at the heart of a galaxy has a mass that correlates with the size of a galactic system.
So when NASA began studying the galaxy cluster Abell 2261, which is about 2.7 billion light-years from Earth and about 20 times the diameter of the Milky Way, the space agency expected to find a monster black hole at its core.
But X-ray observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope found nothing.
According to the space agency, “Using Chandra data from 1999 and 2004, astronomers had already searched the center of the large central galaxy Abell 2261 for signs of a supermassive black hole.
“They looked for material that was superheated as it fell toward the black hole and produced X-rays, but could not detect such a source.
“Now, with new, longer Chandra observations from 2018, a team led by Kayhan Gultekin at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has conducted a deeper search for the black hole at the center of the galaxy.”
The most recent search also proved fruitless. Now astronomers are racking their brains to find an answer to the galactic mystery.
One theory is that the supermassive black hole may have been ejected from the center at some point in Abell’s history.
This would require that two black holes merge, which would produce large gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of space-time.
If the gravitational waves on one side of the merger were stronger than on the other, the giant black hole could have been flung into deep space, where it would have to wander through the cosmos for an eternity.
However, according to NASA, “neither Chandra nor Hubble data showed evidence of the black hole itself.”
Therefore, NASA will have to wait until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope – the most powerful telescope yet, which it hopes will launch next year as Hubble’s successor – to look for more evidence.