Supermassive black hole pairs imaged in merging galactic cores

Olive Hawkins
November 9, 2018

Astrophysicists now believe there are about 10,000 black holes at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, all of which surround a supermassive black hole at its core.

Astronomers suspect that supermassive black holes lurk at the heart of every sizable galaxy, holding the galactic fiber together.

Galactic mergers likely give supermassive black holes ample opportunities to rip apart stars and devour matter. While some research has shown a link between quasars and merging galaxies, other studies have found no such association.

Scientists successfully captured a series of images they say show what happens when galaxies collide and merge.

According to NASA, a "galaxy merger" is a slow process that can take more than a billion years to complete.

A rare image of two colliding galaxies reveals what will happen during Earth's final moments. They also believe that if there are any more pairs of black holes, they will merge within the next 10 million years and form a massive black hole.

Black holes can generate high-energy X-rays visible even through thick gas and dusts when they consume matter. Observations made with the Hubble telescope represent more than two decades worth of images. Koss is an astrophysicist at scientific research company Eureka Scientific in Oakland, California.

Astronomers also said that these black holes grow the quickest during the final stages of a galaxy merger which was also the case with these two galaxies that we've told you about.

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The team was inspired by a Hubble image of two interacting galaxies collectively called NGC 6240, which later served as a prototype for the study. Credit: Keck images: W. M. Keck Observatory and M. Koss.

To check their results, they compared the survey galaxies with a control group of 176 other galaxies, from the Hubble archive, that lack actively growing black holes. Numerous galaxies are similar in size to the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. High resolution scientists slipped another mystery: apparently orbiting a black hole is unknown, but stable object. These findings matched the researchers' computer simulations, which suggested that highly active but heavily obscured black holes hidden within gas- and dust-rich galaxies are responsible for many mergers of supermassive black holes.

The findings suggest that galactic mergers may indeed be a key process by which black holes grow to stupendous masses.

"Deep inside the dusty, messy cores of merging galaxies are pairs of black holes feasting on material and moving closer to coalescence", a tweet on the Hubble Telescope twitter account read.

"Right now, the galaxies are separated by millions of light-years, but we're moving toward Andromeda at 250,000 miles per hour [400,000 km/h]", Koss said.

Earlier this year, NASA released a video simulation of what is likely to happen when both galaxies inevitably collide. Improved images could also come from adaptive-optics systems in the next generation of very large ground-based telescopes, such as the Thirty Meter Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, Koss said.

The new work was detailed online today (Nov. 7) in the journal Nature.

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