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A nearby black hole may have been booted right out of its home galaxy

This simulation from NASA shows a possible explanation for the origins of a source called SDSS1133, which is part of dwarf galaxy Markarian 177. (Video: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/L. Blecha (UMD))

Imagine you're a typical black hole, just minding your own business and keeping a tight lid on all your densely packed matter -- and you suddenly get blasted out of your home and into the dark of empty space. The nerve!

That very indignity may have occurred not far from our own cosmic back yard -- or at least within observational distance, according to new research to be published Friday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Astronomers are trying to figure out the identity of a mysterious space object they've spotted, and their leading theory is that it's a black hole that's been ejected from its home galaxy.

The object is in Markarian 177, a dwarf galaxy (about 100 times smaller than our own) located in the bowl of the Big Dipper -- 90 million light-years from Earth.

Most galaxies have black holes, and that's what this bright dot of space stuff looks to be. But, unlike your typical black hole, it wasn't located in its galaxy's core. In fact, it was around 2,600 light-years out of place.

But because the object has been showing up on images for over 60 years now, scientists don't think it's a recently exploded supernova, which is basically the only other explanation for such a bright object.

Instead, the researchers think they're seeing the aftermath of the collision of two galaxies -- a crash that sent one of their black holes out into space.

If two colliding galaxies each have a supermassive black hole, those black holes can merge. But this merger produces massive gravitational waves -- ripples in the very fabric of space-time. This force can cause the new black hole to recoil, kicking it out of center and into a wonky orbit. But it's theoretically possible for the black hole to be ejected from the galaxy entirely, as shown in the simulation above.

Even if this object isn't a black hole gone rogue, it's still pretty exciting. If it does in fact turn out to be a supernova, it's the longest star explosion ever observed. The researchers hope that observations taken over the next year will give them their answer.

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