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Black Hole Jerked Around Twice

For Release: July 21, 2010


Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/UMD/Hodges-Kluck et al): Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA/UMD/Hodges-Kluck et al); Optical (SDSS)
Press Image and Caption

Scientists have found evidence that a giant black hole has been jerked around twice, causing its spin axis to point in a different direction from before. This discovery, made with new data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, might explain several mysterious-looking objects found throughout the Universe.

The axis of the spinning black hole is thought to have moved, but not the black hole itself, so this result differs from recently published work on recoiling black holes.

"We think this is the best evidence ever seen for a black hole having been jerked around like this," said Edmund Hodges-Kluck of the University of Maryland. "We're not exactly sure what caused this behavior, but it was probably triggered by a collision between two galaxies."

A team of astronomers used Chandra for a long observation of a galaxy known as 4C+00.58, which is located about 780 million light years from Earth. Like most galaxies, 4C+00.58 contains a supermassive black hole at its center, but this one is actively pulling in copious quantities of gas. Gas swirling toward the black hole forms a disk around the black hole. Twisted magnetic fields in the disk generate strong electromagnetic forces that propel some of the gas away from the disk at high speed, producing radio jets.

A radio image of this galaxy shows a bright pair of jets pointing from left to right and a fainter, more distant line of radio emission running in a different direction. More specifically, 4C+00.58 belongs to a class of "X-shaped" galaxies, so called because of the outline of their radio emission.

The new Chandra data have allowed astronomers to determine what may be happening in this system, and perhaps in others like it. The X-ray image reveals four different cavities around the black hole. These cavities come in pairs: one in the top-right and bottom-left, and another in the top-left and bottom-right.

When combined with the orientation of the radio jets, the complicated geometry revealed in the Chandra image may tell the story of what happened to this supermassive black hole and the galaxy it inhabits.

"We think that this black hole has quite a history," said Christopher Reynolds of the University of Maryland in College Park. "Not once, but twice, something has caused this black hole to change its spin axis."

According to the scenario presented by Hodges-Kluck and his colleagues, the spin axis of the black hole ran along a diagonal line from top-right to bottom-left. After a collision with a smaller galaxy, a jet powered by the black hole ignited, blowing away gas to form cavities in the hot gas to the top-right and bottom-left. Since the gas falling onto the black hole was not aligned with the spin of the black hole, the spin axis of the black hole rapidly changed direction, and the jets then pointed in a roughly top-left to bottom-right direction, creating cavities in the hot gas and radio emission in this direction.

Then, either a merging of the two central black holes from the colliding galaxies, or more gas falling onto the black hole caused the spin axis to jerk around to its present direction in roughly a left to right direction. These types of changes in the angle of the spin of a supermassive black hole have previously been suggested to explain X-shaped radio galaxies, but no convincing case has been made in any individual case.

"If we're right, our work shows that jets and cavities are like cosmic fossils that help trace the merger history of an active supermassive black hole and the galaxy it lives in," said Hodges-Kluck. "If even a fraction of X-shaped radio galaxies are produced by such "spin-flips", then their frequency may be important for estimating the detection rates with gravitational radiation missions."

These results appeared in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information, including images and other multimedia, can be found at: and

Media contacts:
Janet Anderson
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Visitor Comments (19)

My question is if we consider 4 different black holes for instance is it possible that these black holes are diagonally placed to each other? Is there any such discovery made?

Posted by Jay Lahoti on Thursday, 07.2.15 @ 23:55pm

Dear Kanisha,
Thanks for your question. Please refer to our field guide about black holes
for more information about these fascinating objects:

P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Tuesday, 10.26.10 @ 10:31am

Dear CVM,
That is an interesting question - thanks. I cannot think of any special advantage there is for a solar system located outside a galaxy. However, the sling-shot process that has been evoked to toss a star out of a galaxy may cause severe changes to the orbits of planets around a star. Also, the environmental conditions are likely to have been a problem for the development of life if the star was initially located near a supermassive
black hole.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Tuesday, 10.26.10 @ 10:30am

I just love this. What an age we live in where we can understand the things we see in the universe
I have been reading about hyper-velocity stars - stars that for some reason are outside of their galaxy and traveling a very high velocities. My question is this, supposing that the star has a system of planets that have largely or entirely remained intact after being ejected from the galaxy - what advantage to a solar system is there in being within the gravitational bounds of a galaxy? Or can a solar system exist well enough outside a galaxy?

Posted by CVM87 on Tuesday, 09.28.10 @ 10:04am

I don't understand what is black hole, what harm will it do? when and why will it do? why supermassive black hole pulling in large quantities of gases?

Please answer me this questions
Kanisha Saha Sarcar
India Kolkata
student of class 7

Posted by kanisha saha sarcar on Sunday, 09.26.10 @ 05:07am

Dear Nick Tavani,
Thanks for your compliment and for your question. Science is giving us an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the evolution of our solar system and the Earth, and the development of life. The discovery of hundreds of planets outside our solar system and continued studies of the evolution of Sun-like stars is also providing important context. Ultimately we may find that Earth-like planets and life are common in our galaxy. This would suggest a pattern, rather than a design.
P.Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Friday, 08.20.10 @ 16:40pm

Love your work. Your website provides some far out distraction during the work day. The photos and explanations are both clear and fascinating. Do you think earth's corner of the universe shows design or just random coincidences of factors friendly to advanced life.

Posted by Nick Tavani on Tuesday, 08.17.10 @ 10:35am

Dear Jesse Carroll,
Thanks for your comment. I don't have any more information about that object, but it would be possible to use a tool like the World Wide Telescope to try to hunt down more information about it.
P.Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P.Edmonds on Thursday, 08.5.10 @ 10:40am

Dear Lothar Thiel,
Thanks for your question. Supermassive black holes are found at the centers of galaxies and have masses of millions or billions of times that of the Sun. A very different class of black hole are the stellar-mass variety with masses of about ten times that of the Sun. Then there is a third variety with masses in between these two extremes. For more, see:

P.Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P.Edmonds on Thursday, 08.5.10 @ 10:38am

Dear Jim Henson,
Thanks for your interesting theory. The Earth's location near the plane of the Milky Way galaxy means that we are shielded from much of the radiation that might be generated by the central supermassive black hole. Even without this shielding it's very unlikely that Earth would be regularly hit by randomly oriented jets caused by large mergers.
P.Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P.Edmonds on Thursday, 08.5.10 @ 10:19am

Hello Lothar,
Supermassive means a mass of millions to billions times the mass of the Sun. By contrast, there are intermediate mass 100-1000 times the Solar mass, Solar mass black holes, 1-10 x the Solar mass, and mini, evaporating black holes, Earth mass or mountain-mass black holes. The black holes at the centers of active galaxies, or inactive galaxies, like the Milky Way, are found to be supermassive.

Posted by KarlD on Wednesday, 08.4.10 @ 09:41am

Pix are great, especially like the explanations of what's going on. Nice to keep learning things. Thanks for your efforts.

Posted by Avery Booth Stone on Thursday, 07.29.10 @ 13:08pm


Posted by marie on Sunday, 07.25.10 @ 14:53pm

Nice, black holes are fascinating.

Posted by Tosh on Saturday, 07.24.10 @ 23:13pm

Can the flipping of the milky ways spin axis explain earths variable 25 to 29 million year cycle of mass extinctions spiral arm stars like our sun would have less shielding by dust and gas between the center of the galaxy and our solar system until approximately 4 million years later? when they would assume definite spiral arm formations again?

Posted by jim henson on Saturday, 07.24.10 @ 17:19pm

Exceptionally beautiful.

Posted by prana fistianduta on Saturday, 07.24.10 @ 09:47am

I am happy that you work very hard to save the world and inform us that everything happens in space. I would love to join NASA. I wish you be success all the time good luck.

Posted by Farid on Friday, 07.23.10 @ 06:15am

I don't understand the expression "supermassive black hole". Aren't black holes always supermassive? Or are there less massive black holes although being defined as the most massive phenomenon of the universe? Or did you want to say that it is a very big black hole? Thanks for a little hint
Best regards
Lothar Thiel
Bilbao Spain

Posted by Lothar Thiel on Thursday, 07.22.10 @ 06:24am

There is a Double Galaxy to the left and up a bit, in the wide field view. I wonder if it is active too.


Posted by Jesse Carroll on Wednesday, 07.21.10 @ 22:06pm