W44 is a supernova remnant 10,000 light years from our planet. Created by an exploding star, this majestic nebula is now the subject of research; a team of researchers led by Masaya Yamada of Keio University were initially investigating the amount of energy needed to give rise to the cloud of molecular gas, but instead – they found signs of a black hole living deep within it’s core.
Reported in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the team showed interesting and unprecedented cloud formation within the nebula. The clouds motion and shape formed a “bullet” moving at over 100 times the speed of sound that can’t be explained by the presence of a supernova.
“Most of the Bullet has an expanding motion with a speed of 50 km/s, but the tip of the Bullet has a speed of 120 km/s. Its kinetic energy is a few tens of times larger than that injected by the W44 supernova. It seems impossible to generate such an energetic cloud under ordinary environments.”
The team poses two potential explanations for the phenomena, both of them involving a black hole as the culprit. The first explanation details a scenario in which the black hole would attract most of the nebula’s gas quickly which would create an explosion. That explosion would propel gas forwards, creating the “bullet” we see.
The second possibility details a fast moving black hole that travelled through interstellar space. In this case, it’s estimated that a black hole (36 times the mass of the sun) came hurdling in from the cosmos and created an immense amount of turmoil in the nebula.
Scientists believe the second explanation is more likely although they have yet to confirm the hypothesis. They plan to use the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to create a more detailed model of the system which would shed light on the occurrence.
Similar to finding planets via the transit of it’s star, this method of molecular disruption could provide a new way to search for black holes.
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