Two supermassive black holes, very close to each other, found by astronomers

Two supermassive black holes, very close to each other, found by astronomers

Two supermassive black holes, very close to each other, found by astronomers

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Two supermassive black holes have been spotted feasting on cosmic materials as two galaxies merge in deep space — and are the closest thing to colliding black holes astronomers have ever observed.

Astronomers spotted the pair when they used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array of telescopes, or ALMA, in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile to observe two merging galaxies about 500 million light-years from Earth.

The two black holes grew side by side near the center of the merging galaxy as a result of the merger. They met when their host galaxies, known as UGC 4211, collided.

One is 200 million times the mass of our sun, while the other is 125 million times the mass of our sun.

Although the black holes themselves are not directly visible, they were both surrounded by bright star clusters and warm, glowing gas – all of which is pulled along by the holes’ gravity.

Over time, they will orbit each other, eventually crashing into each other and creating one black hole.

After observing them across multiple wavelengths of light, the black holes are the closest together scientists have ever seen — only about 750 light-years apart, which is relatively close, astronomically speaking.

The results were shared at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Association will be held in Seattle this week and published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The distance between the black holes “is pretty close to the limit of what we can detect, which is why this is so exciting,” said study co-author Chiara Mingarelli, an associate research scientist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City. . , in a statement.

Galactic mergers are more common in the distant universe, making them more difficult to see with Earth-based telescopes. But ALMA’s sensitivity was able to detect even their active galactic nuclei – the bright, dense regions in galaxies where matter swirls around black holes. Astronomers were surprised to find a binary pair of black holes, rather than a single black hole, feeding on the gas and dust generated by the galactic merger.

“Our study has identified one of the closest pairs of black holes in a galaxy merger, and because we know that galaxy mergers are much more common in the distant Universe, these black hole binaries may also be much more common than previously thought. ” he said. lead study author Michael Koss, a senior research scientist at the Eureka Scientific Research Institute in Oakland, Calif., said in a statement.

“What we’ve just studied is a source in the very last phase of collision, so what we’re seeing predicts that fusion and also gives us insight into the connection between black holes merging and growing and eventually producing gravitational waves,” Koss said. .

If pairs of black holes — as well as merging galaxies that led to their creation — are more common in the universe than previously thought, they could have implications for future gravitational-wave research. Gravitational waves, or ripples in spacetime, are created when black holes collide.

It will be another few hundred million years before this particular pair of black holes collide, but the insights gleaned from this observation could help scientists better estimate how many pairs of black holes in the universe are about to collide.

“There could be many pairs of growing supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies that we have not been able to identify so far,” study co-author Ezequiel Treister, an astronomer at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile, said in a statement. “If this is the case, we will see frequent gravitational wave events caused by the merger of these objects in the Universe in the near future.”

Space telescopes such as Hubble and the Chandra X-ray Observatory and ground-based telescopes such as the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, also in the Atacama Desert, and the WM Keck telescope in Hawaii have also observed UGC 4211 across several wavelengths of light to provide a more detailed view and differentiate between the two black holes.

“Each wavelength tells a different part of the story,” Treister said. “All this data taken together has given us a clearer picture of how galaxies like ours came to be the way they are, and what they will become in the future.”

Understanding the final phases of galaxy mergers could provide more insight into what will happen when our Milky Way galaxy collides with the Andromeda galaxy in about 4.5 billion years.

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