Scientists Have Discovered a Monstrous Pair of Supermassive Black Holes That Are Destined to Collide
Scientists have discovered a pair of supermassive black holes that are destined to merge into a giant singularity. The findings could help astronomers understand what will happen when our Milky Way merges with the Andromeda galaxy in 4.5 billion years.
Supermassive black holes are thought to lie at the heart of every large galaxy, growing larger as they pull in and swallow large amounts of dust, gas and stars from the surrounding space environment. When stray galaxies crash into each other, the monstrous singularities at their cores are also flung into the vicinity.
The newly discovered black holes were found by scientists observing the aftermath of one such galactic merger occurring about 480 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer.
NASA Black Hole Gallery
The energetic pair were seen feeding on the vortex of material disturbed by the cosmic collision and represent the closest black holes ever discovered by humanity, which have closed in the act of merging.
Scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe the bright and dusty space environment at the heart of the merger in order to identify the black holes. The chaotic pair – known collectively as UGC4211 – were then targeted by a collection of seven powerful observatories, including the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
Data from these observations revealed that the black holes had a mass between 125 and 200 million times the mass of our Sun, according to a release from the Simons Foundation in New York. These celestial heavyweights are separated by a distance of only 750 light years and are likely to merge in a few hundred million years.
The scientists behind the paper detailing the discovery – which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters – used the data to estimate the number of supermassive black holes that could be merging across the universe. The team estimated that a surprisingly high population is likely to exist, and that the extreme forces at play during mergers are likely to create a background chorus of powerful gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are effectively ripples in spacetime that can be created by the motions of massive bodies, such as merging black holes. As a gravitational wave moves away from its source, it squeezes and stretches all matter in its path, creating a disturbance that is measurable on Earth using state-of-the-art laser-based instruments.
“There may be many pairs of supermassive black holes growing in the centers of galaxies that we have not been able to identify so far,” said Ezequiel Treister, an astronomer at the Universidad Católica de Chile and co-author of the new paper. in a new statement. “If this is the case, in the near future we will observe frequent gravitational wave events caused by the merger of these objects throughout the Universe.”
The discovery will also allow scientists to better understand what will happen to the Milky Way in the distant future. In billions of years, our galaxy will merge with its larger spiral neighbor – the Andromeda galaxy.
“The Milky Way-Andromeda collision is in its early stages and is predicted to occur in about 4.5 billion years,” commented Michael Koss, senior research scientist at Eureka Scientific and lead author of the new study, in the release from National. Radio Astronomy Observatory website.
“What we’ve just studied is a source in the final stage of the collision, so what we’re seeing predicts the merger and also gives us insight into the connection between the merger and the accretion of black holes and ultimately the production of gravitational waves.”
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Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video game news for IGN. He has over eight years of experience covering groundbreaking developments in multiple scientific fields and has absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer
Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); M. Weiss, NRAO/AUI/NSF