Millions of years ago, B3 1715+425 was just an ordinary supermassive black hole. It had a comfortable life, of devouring stars and belching deadly x-rays, at the center of its distant galaxy.
Now, starless and alone, it’s screaming through space at 2,000 kilometers per second—and it may never stop. Most of the time, this process seems to work out for all parties involved, judging from the fact that nearly all supermassive black holes reside at the center of galaxies, and nearly all galactic centers contain a supermassive black hole.
But every now and then, something goes wrong and cosmic wreckage ensues. B3 1715+425, speeding away from the core of a bloated galactic merger 2 billion light years from Earth, is living proof of this. Using the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) network of telescopes, Condon and his team were able to get a closer look at B3 1715+425. Based on how the black hole is behaving now, they think is that, millions of years ago, B3 1715+425's galaxy passed through a much larger galaxy - one that had already swallowed up other galaxies in its path. Because it was so big, instead of merging into it, B3 1715+425's galaxy was shredded and ripped apart, with parts of its stellar debris strewn throughout the galaxy cluster.
Have other galaxies and supermassive black holes met the same unfortunate fate? It seems likely. Condon and his team will continue to investigate the matter using the VLBA, and with high-resolution optical telescopes in the future.