Ousted Black Hole or Exploding Star? Astronomers Aren’t Sure, But It Looks Cool

SDSS 1133

A new study is out and took a look at a unique object positioned 90 million light years from Earth. What is it? Astronomers believe it could be a supermassive black hole that has been kicked out of its home galaxy.

Ok, how could that happen? Astronomers believe the jettisoned object is the result of two colliding galaxies. You can see the object (dubbed SDSS1133) pictured below. You can also see what is described as the “disturbed” center of Markarian 117 (a dwarf galaxy).

SDSS1133 and dwarf galaxy

“We suspect we’re seeing the aftermath of a merger of two small galaxies and their central black holes,” said co-author Laura Blecha, an Einstein Fellow in the University of Maryland’s Department of Astronomy.

“Astronomers searching for recoiling black holes have been unable to confirm a detection, so finding even one of these sources would be a major discovery.”

Astronomers seem fairly confident SDSS1133 isn’t a supernova, at least not a typical one. The brightness of the object has jumped a significant amount over the previous two years. But, SDSS1133 has been spotted at various times over the past 63 years. Because of this, astronomers don’t believe it’s a normal supernova.

One other exciting explanation is that SDSS1133 is a star known as a Luminous Blue Variable (LBV). These stars have long periods of eruptions before eventually destroying themselves in a supernova explosion.

In either case, astronomers are excited.

“With the data we have in hand, we can’t yet distinguish between these two scenarios,” said lead researcher Michael Koss, an astronomer at ETH Zurich.

“One exciting discovery made with NASA’s Swift is that the brightness of SDSS1133 has changed little in optical or ultraviolet light for a decade, which is not something typically seen in a young supernova remnant.”

If SDSS1133 is a LBV, it was in nearly constant eruption from at least 1950 to 2001. That would make it the longest one ever observed. Granted, those observations have only been possible since 1950, but it’s still an awesome discovery.

Image Credits: Sloan Digital Sky Survey / W.M. Keck Observatory, M. Koss (ETH Zurich)

SDSS 1133
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