The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole may have a dozen nomadic siblings

The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole may have a dozen nomadic sibl

At the center of the Milky Way sits a dark and dangerous beast: Sagittarius A*. Located about 26,000 light-years from Earth, our galaxy’s only known supermassive black hole is roughly 4 million times as massive as the Sun, and its immense gravitational pull can nonchalantly annihilate any object that strays too close. Fortunately for us, Sagittarius A* is like a troll under a bridge — it does not leave its post. 

This tends to be the case for most supermassive black holes (SMBHs) found throughout the universe. However, sometimes a SMBH can be forced from the center of its host galaxy, particularly if it’s involved in a galactic merger with a bigger counterpart. For example, if a small galaxy merges with a larger one, the smaller galaxy’s SMBH will likely be thrown into a wide orbit around the newly formed galaxy, therefore becoming a ‘wandering’ supermassive black hole. Though astronomers have previously found evidence of these nomadic SMBHs on the outskirts of other galaxies, their overall prevalence is still largely unknown. 

But according to a new study published April 24 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, wandering supermassive black holes may be quite common (and even observable) within many different types of galaxies — including the Milky Way.


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