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Two supermassive black holes have been detected feasting on cosmic material as two galaxies in distant space merge – and they are the closest to colliding black holes astronomers have ever observed.
Astronomers spotted the pair while using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Telescope Array, or ALMA, in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile to observe the two merging galaxies about 500 million light-years from Earth.
The two black holes were growing in succession near the center of the merging galaxy, which resulted from the merger. They came together when their host galaxies, known as UGC 4211, collided.
One is 200 million times the mass of our sun, and the other is 125 million times the mass of our sun.
While the black holes themselves are not directly visible, both are surrounded by bright star clusters and hot, glowing gas – all of which are pulled by the holes’ gravity.
Over time, they will begin to orbit each other around each other and eventually collide with each other to form a single black hole.
After observing them at multiple wavelengths of light, the black holes were located at the closest positions scientists had ever seen – only about 750 light-years away, which is relatively close, astronomically speaking.
At the 241st meeting, the results were shared. American Astronomical Society will be held in Seattle this week and on Monday Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The distance between black holes “is pretty close to the limit we can detect, so that’s very exciting,” said study co-author Chiara Mingarelli, an assistant research scientist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York. , in a statement.
Galactic mergers are more common in the distant universe, making them difficult to see with Earth-based telescopes. But ALMA’s sensitivity was even able to observe active galactic nuclei – bright, compact regions in galaxies where matter revolves around black holes. Astronomers were surprised to find a binary black hole pair rather than a single black hole eating up the gas and dust produced by the galactic merger.
“Our work has identified one of the closest pairs of black holes in a galaxy merger, and as 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, California, said in a statement.
“What we’ve just examined is a source at the very end of the collision, so what we’re seeing is a precursor to this merger, and it also gives us insight into the connection between black holes merging, growing, and eventually producing gravitational waves,” Koss said. .
If black hole pairs and the merging galaxies that led to their creation are more common in the universe than previously thought, it may have implications for future gravitational wave research. Gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time, are created when black holes collide.
It will still take several hundred million years for this particular black hole pair to collide, but the insights from this observation could help scientists better predict how many black hole pairs are close to colliding in the universe.
“There may be many supermassive black hole pairs at the centers of galaxies that we haven’t been able to identify until now,” said study co-author Ezequiel Treister, an astronomer at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile. Declaration. “If that’s the case, we’ll be seeing frequent gravitational wave events in the near future from these objects merging across the Universe.”
Space-based telescopes such as the Hubble and Chandra X-ray Observatory, also located in the Atacama Desert, and ground-based telescopes such as the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, and the WM Keck telescope in Hawaii have also observed UGC 4211 at different light wavelengths. to provide a more detailed overview and to differentiate between two black holes.
“Each wavelength tells a different part of the story,” said Treister. “All this data has given us a clearer picture of what galaxies like ours are like and what they will be in the future.”
Knowing more about the final stages of galaxy mergers can 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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