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Astronomers discover two supermassive black holes in a spiral of death

Dance of Death

This computer simulation shows two overlapping black holes and was created after the first direct observation of gravitational waves.

SXS Lensing

With the help of images obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope, a US collaboration of astronomers detected two supermassive black holes on a collision course, 2.5 billion light years away from the Earth. The two black holes will continue to come together, creating huge ripples in space-time, known as gravitational waves, which can be detected on Earth. Although it is unlikely that we will detect their signal for billions of years, they will help astronomers better understand these huge ripples.

The research, published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters on July 10, describes the two supermassive black holes as having 800 million times more mass than our sun. The galaxy containing the black holes, SDSS J1010 + 1413, has attracted the attention of observing astronomers because it is remarkably bright. When astronomers tilted Hubble's wide-field camera 3, the most advanced instrument aboard the space telescope, they noticed the supermassive black holes.


At about 2.5 billion light years, two black holes turn one towards the other (inlay), emitting powerful gravitational waves.

A.D. Goulding et al./Astrophysical Journal Letters 2019

Supermassive black holes are usually found in the center of galaxies, including ours, and in a fusion of galaxies, they eventually start a death dance, winding into an almost endless waltz, until that they merge. However, researchers do not know for the moment how long it takes for black holes to fuse – or even disappear.

"It's a big disadvantage for astronomy not to know if supermassive black holes are coming together," said Jenny Greene, professor of astrophysics at Princeton and co-author of the study. "For all black hole physics specialists, it's a long-standing puzzle that we need to solve."

This puzzle is nicknamed the "last parsec problem". Some astronomers believe that once two supermassive black holes have come close enough to each other to reduce their distance to a parsec (3.2 light-years), they can dance for a while. eternity.

But that's where this discovery and gravitational waves come in. Squeezing the help of gravitational wave physicists, black monsters at 2.5 billion light-years help to refine estimates of the frequency of supermassive black hole pairs like this.

"This is the first example of a pair of black holes as gigantic as we have found, but there may still be other binary black holes to discover," said Michael Strauss, co-author of the Princeton Astrophysics Journal. Department of Science, in a press release.

Physicists optimistically suggest that more than 100 supermassive black holes nearby will emit gravitational waves, allowing astronomers to detect the background of gravitational waves in the next five years or so.

If astronomers can detect this constant snoring of space-time waves suggesting the existence of the gravitational wave background – and eliminate the final parsec problem. However, the same goes for the opposite scenario.

"If the background of the gravitational wave is not detected, this could indicate that the supermassive black holes only fuse on extremely long time scales, staying near separation binaries." For many periods of Hubble, what is called the "final-parsec problem", http: // www. cnet.com/ "write the researchers.

For the moment, as often, we continue to look at the cosmos and hunt.

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