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Astronomers Have Detected A Historic Giant Black Hole In The Making

Laura Sanders

| Last updated 

Astronomers Have Detected A Historic Giant Black Hole In The Making

Astronomers have detected a historic giant black hole in the making as two supermassive black holes look set to merge in a cataclysmic collision. 

It's the first time astronomers have spotted two supermassive black holes so close to one another and they’ve said they will eventually merge into one colossal cosmic abyss.

Black holes, considered the most mysterious objects in the universe, are regions of space where matter has collapsed in on itself. Their gravitational pull is so great, nothing can escape - not even light. 

Two supermassive black holes set to merge in cataclysmic collision. (Credit: SWNS)
Two supermassive black holes set to merge in cataclysmic collision. (Credit: SWNS)

The supermassive black holes lie 89 million light years away from us in the constellation of Aquarius. They’re just 1,600 light-years apart - which in this context, is very close together.

"The two black holes are on a collision course and form the closest pair of supermassive black holes found to date,” said Dr Voggel, lead author at the University of Strasbourg.

"They have a much smaller separation than any other previously spotted pair of supermassive black holes,” said Dr Karina Voggel. "They will eventually merge into one giant black hole."

The bigger black hole was found to have a mass almost 154 million times that of the Sun, a figure which is quite incomprehensible to us. The supermassive black hole is located right at the core of its galaxy, known as NGC 7727. Its companion is 6.3 million solar masses.

Voggel added that the black holes will send out gravitational waves, which are ripples in space and time first predicted by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity.

Each one is at the centre of dense groups of bright stars captured by European Space Obervatory’s (ESO's) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

The international team calculated their size from the gravitational pull of the stars around them, using a scanner called MUSE (Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) mounted on the telescope as well as Hubble data, which confirmed the supermassive black holes.

Dr Voggel said: "Our finding implies there might be many more of these relics of galaxy mergers out there.

"They may contain many hidden massive black holes that still wait to be found.

"It could increase the total number of supermassive black holes known in the local universe by 30 percent."

The search for similarly hidden supermassive black hole pairs is set to make a great leap forward with ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is being built just 12 miles from the VLT in the Atacama Desert and is due to be in operation before the end of the decade.

"This detection of a supermassive black hole pair is just the beginning,” said co-author Dr Steffen Mieske.

"With the HARMONI instrument on the ELT we will be able to make detections like this considerably further than currently possible."

He added: "ESO's ELT will be integral to understanding these objects."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Space

Laura Sanders
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