This illustration shows how gravitational waves can propel a black hole from the center of a galaxy. The scenario begins in the first panel with the merger of two galaxies, each with a central black hole. In the second panel, the two black holes in the newly merged galaxy settle into the center and begin whirling around each other. This energetic action produces gravitational waves. As the two hefty objects continue to radiate away gravitational energy, they move closer to each other over time, as seen in the third panel. If the black holes do not have the same mass and rotation rate, they emit gravitational waves more strongly in one direction, as shown by the bright area at upper left. The black holes finally merge in the fourth panel, forming one giant black hole. The energy emitted by the merger propels the black hole away from the center in the opposite direction of the strongest gravitational waves.
NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)