Space can be a baffling mystery, and scientists are left frustrated yet again after the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a black hole in a galaxy 130 million light-years away that “shouldn’t exist,” per Science Daily.
The finding was particularly unusual because it discovered a disk of material spinning around the supermassive black hole at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 3147. According to current scientific theories, the spinning disk of material should not be there.
This is because in galaxies like NGC 3147, there is not enough material that can be captured by the gravitational pull of the black hole to “feed” it. This means that the resulting material “puffs up like a donut” around the black hole. Black holes that are more nourished due to more active galaxies feature the thin disk that is present in NGC 3147.
Though scientists are confused, they are taking it as a way to test Einstein’s two theories of relativity: general and special. General relativity is the study of how things react in the large scale of spacetime, while special relativity relates to how objects act at extremely high speeds.
“We’ve never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity,” said Marco Chiaberge of the European Space Agency, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Johns Hopkins University, who was one of the researchers on the team.
Another one of the study’s authors, Stefano Bianchi of Università degli Studi Roma, echoed similar comments.
“This is an intriguing peek at a disk very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how the photons of light look,” he said. “We cannot understand the data unless we include the theories of relativity.”
Ironically, NGC 3147 was chosen for the study as a lower-luminosity active galaxy so that the researchers could research a so-called malnourished black hole. Though the black hole featured a similar kind of quasar to material-starved black holes, the disk remains a mystery.
“The type of disk we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist,” Bianchi said, adding that the disk is normally found in galaxies that are 1,000 to 100,000 times more luminous.
“The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed.”
The research team hopes to use the Hubble Space Telescope to search for more low luminous galaxies with disk-featuring black holes to further apply astronomical principles.
The full paper is available online via the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.