Scientists have discovered a pair of supermassive black holes that are set to merge into one massive singularity. The results could help astronomers understand what will happen when our Milky Way galaxy merges with the Andromeda galaxy in 4.5 billion years.
Supermassive black holes are believed to lurk at the heart of every major galaxy, increasing in size as they attract and devour massive amounts of dust, gas, and stars from the surrounding space environment. When wandering galaxies collide with each other, the monstrous singularities at their cores also draw closer together.
The newly discovered black holes were discovered by scientists observing the aftermath of a single galactic merger occurring about 480 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer.
NASA Black Hole Gallery
The energetic pair has been spotted feeding on a storm of material disturbed by a cosmic collapse, and represents the closest black holes humanity has ever discovered that have been sealed off during the merger process.
Scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array/Partial Array (ALMA), to look at the bright, dusty space environment at the core of the merger in order to identify black holes. The chaotic duo — known collectively as UGC4211 — has been targeted by a constellation of seven powerful observatories, including the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
The data from these observations revealed that the black holes were between 125 and 200 million times the mass of our sun, according to a statement from NASA. Simmons Foundation in New York. These celestial bodies are separated by a distance of only 750 light-years, and will likely merge within a few hundred million years.
The scientists behind the research detailing the discovery – published in Astrophysical Journal Letters Use the data to estimate the amount of supermassive black holes that could merge throughout the universe. The team estimated that a surprisingly large population likely existed, and that the extreme forces at play during mergers would likely create a background chorus of powerful gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are powerful ripples in space-time that can be created by the motions of massive objects such as merging black holes. As a gravitational wave sweeps outward from its source, it compresses and stretches all matter in its path, creating turbulence that can be measured on Earth with state-of-the-art laser-based instruments.
“There may be many more pairs of supermassive black holes growing in the centers of galaxies that we haven’t been able to identify until now,” said Ezequiel Traister, an astronomer at Universidad Cattolica de Chile and co-author of the new paper. in a new statement. “If this is the case, then in the near future we will be watching repeated gravitational wave events generated by the merger of these objects across the universe.”
This discovery will also allow scientists to better understand what will happen to the Milky Way in the distant future. Billions of years from now our galaxy will merge with its larger spiral neighbor – the Andromeda Galaxy.
Eureka Scientific’s senior investigator and lead author of the new study, Michael Koss, commented in the statement released by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory website.
“What we just studied is a source that is in the last stage of the collision, so what we’re seeing portends this merger and also gives us insight into the relationship between black holes that merge, grow and eventually produce gravitational waves.”
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Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video game news for IGN. He has more than eight years of experience covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and there is absolutely no time to fool you. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer
Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); M. Weiss, NRAO/AUI/NSF
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