Saturday, 18 August, 2018

Supermassive Black Holes Observed Orbiting Each Other for Very First Time

92384729387 black hole 1 What a supermassive smash might look like. Credit Mark A. Garlick CfA
Frank Williams | 28 June, 2017, 16:55

Long ago, 0402+379 may have gotten its bloated shape and double-black-hole-center from merging galaxies, and it could teach scientists a lot about the lifespan of galaxies - especially since the same fate awaits the Milky Way, with the Andromeda galaxy speeding towards us right now.

Researchers led by Greg Taylor, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Mexico, have taken snapshots of radio galaxy 0402+379, the one containing the two black holes over the past 12 years.

The black holes are among the largest ever found, with a combined mass 15 billion times that of the sun, the study says. This great discovery of the two orbiting supermassive black holes could help scientists understand more about the universe.

Given how slowly the pair is orbiting, the researchers think the black holes are too far apart to come together within the estimated remaining age of the universe, unless there is an added source of friction.

Despite the huge distance, it is actually flawless for observation here on Earth and over a period of time tracked their trajectories and - to their astonishment - the black holes were confirmed to be orbiting one another. It hosts two supermassive black holes at its center, being denoted as C1 and C2.

Once confirmed, this would be the first pair of black holes ever seen to move relative to each other.

The galaxy, an elliptical galaxy called 0402+379, after its location in the sky, was first observed in 1995.

In the twelve year-long research, scientists from the University of New Mexico used the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a system made up of 10 radio telescopes across the United States.

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"For a long time, we've been looking into space to try and find a pair of these supermassive black holes orbiting as a result of two galaxies merging", said Taylor.

Black holes are among the most massive objects in the universe, with some billions of times denser than our Sun.

By documenting the orbital motion of two supermassive black holes, the latest study published in the Astrophysical Journal offers valuable evidence of what leads up to the merger of these celestial objects, one of the phenomenon that create gravitational waves.

"We need to continue observing this galaxy to improve our understanding of the orbit, and of the masses of the black holes", Taylor said.

Ever since Einstein's theory of general relativity, astronomers have been fascinated by supermassive black holes.

"What we've been able to do is a true technical achievement over this 12-year period using the VLBA to achieve sufficient resolution and precision in the astrometry to actually see the orbit happening".

"[This] is the closest together that two supermassive black holes have ever been seen before", she said. "It's a bit of a triumph in technology to have been able to do this".

The orbits of the binary stars have given us many assumptions about the stars in general according to Bob Zavala, an astronomer of the American naval Observatory. This will probably be happening in a few billion years so it would be nice to know what can be the result. In the meantime, the team hopes that this discovery will encourage related work from astronomers around the world.

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