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Astronomers Detect Two Black Holes in a Cosmic Dance

Artist's conception of the binary supermassive black hole system. Credit P. Marenfeld, NOAO

Artist's conception of the binary supermassive black hole system. Credit P. Marenfeld, NOAO

Paired black holes are theorized to be common, but have escaped detection — until now.

Astronomers Todd Boroson and Tod Lauer, from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Arizona, have found what looks like two massive black holes orbiting each other in the center of one galaxy. Their discovery appears in this week’s issue of Nature.

Astronomers have long suspected that most large galaxies harbor black holes at their center, and that most galaxies have undergone some kind of merger in their lifetime. But while binary black hole systems should be common, they have proved hard to find.  Boroson and Lauer believe they’ve found a galaxy that contains two black holes, which orbit each other every 100 years or so. They appear to be separated by only 1/10 of a parsec, a tenth of the distance from Earth to the nearest star. 

After a galaxy forms, it is likely that a massive black hole can also form at its center. Since many galaxies are found in cluster of galaxies, individual galaxies can collide with each other as they orbit in the cluster. The mystery is what happens to these central black holes when galaxies collide and ultimately merge together. Theory predicts that they will orbit each other and eventually merge into an even larger black hole.

“Previous work has identified potential examples of black holes on their way to merging, but the case presented by Boroson and Lauer is special because the pairing is tighter and the evidence much stronger,” wrote Jon Miller, a University of Michigan astronomer, in an accompanying editorial.

The material falling into a black hole emits light in narrow wavelength regions, forming emission lines which can be seen when the light is dispersed into a spectrum. The emission lines carry the information about the speed and direction of the black hole and the material falling into it. If two black holes are present, they would orbit each other before merging and would have a characteristic dual signature in their emission lines. This signature has now been found.

The smaller black hole has a mass 20 million times that of the sun; the larger one is 50 times bigger, as determined by the their orbital velocities.

Boroson and Lauer used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a 2.5-meter (8-foot) diameter telescope at Apache Point in southern New Mexico to look for this characteristic dual black hole signature among 17,500 quasars. 

Quasars are the most luminous versions of the general class of objects known as active galaxies, which can be a hundred times brighter than our Milky Way galaxy, and powered by the accretion of material into supermassive black holes in their nuclei. Astronomers have found more than 100,000 quasars.

Boroson and Lauer had to eliminate the possibility that they were seeing two galaxies, each with its own black hole, superimposed on each other. To try to eliminate this superposition possibility, they determined that the quasars were at the same red-shift determined distance and that there was a signature of only one host galaxy.

“The double set of broad emission lines is pretty conclusive evidence of two black holes,” Boroson said. “If in fact this were a chance superposition, one of the objects must be quite peculiar.  One nice thing about this binary black hole system is that we predict that we will see observable velocity changes within a few years at most.  We can test our explanation that the binary black hole system is embedded in a galaxy that is itself the result of a merger of two smaller galaxies, each of which contained one of the two black holes.”  

LEAD IMAGE CAPTION (more): Artist’s conception of the binary supermassive black hole system. Each black hole is surrounded by a disk of material gradually spiraling into its grasp, releasing radiation from x-rays to radio waves.  The two black holes complete an orbit around their center of mass every 100 years, traveling with a relative velocity of 6000 kilometers (3,728 miles) per second.  (Credit P. Marenfeld, NOAO)

Source: NOAO






Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Trippy March 6, 2009, 9:33 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb:

    Chill out dude.

    You’ve taken what I was saying completely the wrong way.

    You don’t have to trust me, and I wasn’t literally asking you to trust me, I was simply using a turn of phrase. If you were genuinely interested in verifying anything i’ve said it’s as simple as going to the afformentioned forum and looking into it for yourself (for the record, I’ve named the forum, and implicit in the fact that OIM and I have recognized each other is the assumption that we use the same handles over there).

    I’m not trying to take credit for anything.

    As for my not contributing anything, I’ve pointed out at least once that Alfven, and Perat, and Arp (et al) predicted the existence of Ambiplasmas, something which haven’t been found in a laboratory yet (which is one of the main draw cards of Plasma Cosmology the whole ‘Triple Jump’ aspect, and the fact that experiments that can be conducted in a laboratory can be scaled up and extended to systems like the sun earth system).

    Also note that I originally didn’t say he was just banned for lying.

    And no, I haven’t made OilIsMastery any more difficult to deal with, his posting style and his method of arguing is exactly the same here as it was over there.

    The only thing I have done, which you seem to find objectionable, is plainly state that I have argued with OIM on another forum, and on that forum he would routinely use false or doctored evidence to support his case.

    Take it however you want, in all honesty I don’t really care, ignore it or take it as a warning, no skin off my nose.

    As for attacking you? In all honesty, I have no idea what you’re going on about that. I don’t specifically recall attacking you.

    Perhaps you’d care to provide some evidence to back up your assertions, or I am I supposed to take it on faith?

    Dude, I don’t know what your problem is, but perhaps you should check your assumptions before you start attacking people.

    You just lost it, big time.

  • Trippy March 6, 2009, 10:27 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb.

    Case in point.
    As near as I can tell, I have made 23 or 24 posts on this site.
    As near as I can tell, I have posted on the same article as you three times, and in none of those cases were my comments directed at you.

    If you choose not to believe me, you have two choices, you can go through every article on this website, or do a Google search.

    I’m about done with this conversation.

    I think you over reacted to what was intended to be a harmless comment, and I don’t appreciate being accused of being responsible for OIM’s attitude and posting style.

    I honestly don’t care if you want to try and handle OIM a ‘different way’. I tried reasoned debate with verifiable peer reviewed sources, and it didn’t work.

    Don’t beleieve me? Go over to Sciforums and check it out for yourself. I’d post direct links to threads and posts, but I don’t want anyone getting the mistaken impression that i’m soliciting traffic for Sciforums, because i’m not. I could just have easily pointed out, and have in another article, that OIM has also been banned from the BAUT forum. You can’t blame me for that, because that happened well before I first encountered OIM (I think).

    I don’t honestly care if you think you’re better than me, and it’s not something that I’m going to claim to know. I’m not emotionally vested in this argument.

    I was simply expressing an opinion, that is completely verifiable if you want to do the work – that trying to convince OIM of anything he doesn’t want to hear is a waste of time. He is, quite simply, as has been already pointed out, a Troll with an agenda.

    The only reason why I mentioned some of the specific conversations I’ve had with him, was to point out that everything he says seems to have stemmed from his belief that Oil must ultimately be of Abiotic origin.

    Of course, that’s just my opinion, but it’s opinion based on observation of the evolution of his arguments.

    Once again, allow me to explicitly state (or reiterate) that you have taken my post in completely the wrong vein, and have taken offense where none was intended.

  • Trippy March 6, 2009, 11:30 PM

    I do have one more thing that I wish to say at thia point.

    Salacious B. Cumb.

    Previously, you have struck me as being a relatively well read poster, you ordinarily have some interesting things to say. I have an inkling that you might have said some things that I ordinarily would disagree with, but, I haven’t commented because I’ve considered your view point to be well thought out and logical.

    I was simply making the point that trying to convince someone that displays all the traits of a relgious zealot (OIM in this case, and bear in mind, I can only speak from my experience of his posts) that they’re wrong is a waste of the time of a poster your calibre.

    Oh, and for the record, OIM has Plasma Cosmology completely wrong, Alfven, Birkeland, and Perat (and everybody else) didn’t seek to replace gravity with electromagnetism, the ‘simply’ sought to include the effects in their calculations, convinced that if they combined it with the calculations of GR that they could do away with the need for Dark Matter, and Dark Energy,

  • Lawrence B. Crowell March 7, 2009, 6:45 AM

    OIM failed to make any comment concerning my question on what Alfven waves are. This suggest this person really does not understand plasma physics at all, but rather has some pseudo-science ideations about the subject.

    About 1/4 of people have authoritarian mentalities, otherwise known as true believers. Your religious fundamentalists, conspiracy “theory” mavens, political extremists and so forth usually are of this sort. People who are pangyrics for alt-science ideas, often comparing themselves to Gallileo with claims of a mass conspiracy by the scientific mainstream, usually fit this sort of profile. This includes the ardent creationist as well as the firm upholder of cold-fusion and other ideas.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Salacious B. Crumb March 7, 2009, 12:02 PM

    Trippy says:
    “Chill out dude.
    You’ve taken what I was saying completely the wrong way.”
    No I haven’t.
    Calling anyone a “liar” (even if it is true) is an absolute no no.
    The moment you do is the moment someone is gone, because they are left with nowhere else to go. “Liar” like the word “murderer” whose connotation is the worst because destroys any possible trust.
    It is like when the British Prime Minister said when accused of lying ; “If you were asked whether my answer about lying was true, one of you (or me) would answer with a lie.”
    If Universe Today were deleting these post IMO yours would be the first one to go! If you or me said such a thing in many other blogging sites – right or wrong – you or me be struck out permanently.
    Acting like true bullies and thugs and “sticking the boot in” is no way to treat anyone – and it makes a vigourous debate turn into a lynching. IMO you crossed over that line, and on provocation, so did OiM. That is why I said “you lose” – literally!

  • Salacious B. Crumb March 7, 2009, 12:08 PM

    Lawrence B. Crowell said;
    “OIM failed to make any comment concerning my question on what Alfven waves are. This suggest this person really does not understand plasma physics…”
    Respectfully, no.
    The gate was opened, and ‘horse’ actually was allowed to bolt…

    Perhaps on a future thread (if the moderators again show such remarkable constraint.)

  • Trippy March 7, 2009, 3:26 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb.

    I strongly suggest you go bacl and re-read my two posts then if this is what you genuinely think.

    I did not actually accuse OIM of being a liar, nor did I actually call him a liar, but stated that he had been banned from somewhere for lying (or being a liar).

    There is a very real difference there. One is me making the accusation, the other is me communicating something that someone else has been said.

    This is the official reason that was given for his ban over on Sciforums:
    “continual trolling and deliberately attempting to deceive readers on scientific topics.”

    I’ve given you all the information you need to go and verify the facts and form your own opinion.

    The only thing I haven’t done is provide specific examples, and i’ve given a good reason as to why I haven’t done that.

  • Trippy March 7, 2009, 3:48 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb:

    The other thing that I’m going to say on the issue is that if you take a look around, you will find that In “Titan Dunes Turn Climate Models Upside Down” OIM called me an ‘illiterate liar’ without provocation because I pointed out that the article has nothing to do with climate change, and he doesn’t distinguish between climate modelling and climate change modelling.

    So that’s twice now? That he’s explicitly accused me of lying, the first example of which was with not provocation what so ever, and predates my comments on this thread about his banning from sciforums by a number of days…

    Honestly, you’re chewing on the wrong ear.

  • Salacious B. Crumb March 7, 2009, 7:00 PM

    I have no real argument with you, except for your timing, which contributed to killing this thread and letting Oils of the hook..
    One point. To deceive readers is not necessarily lying (or being a liar too them) to them.
    Therefore “continual trolling and deliberately attempting to deceive readers on scientific topics.” and being banned for “lying” are false.
    If you need to go on the offensive, in future it is probably to use misleading or deceitful rather the lying – else others who don’t know about this plasma (whatever) epic don’t thin your as bad and get lumped with these two rather misguided plasma-dolts!

  • Trippy March 7, 2009, 7:15 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb:

    If you look through this topic, I made my first comment relatively early on. As far as the timing of my comment goes, I work, full time, and live in a different time zone to most of the posters on this site (GMT +13:00), so take that for what it’s worth, but I don’t have the time to post here regularly, so on a thread where between getting up in the morning and checking, and then checking again during my lunch break, the number of posts almost doubles?

    And I’m sorry, but as far as I’m aware deliberately making a misleading or deceitful statement meets the definition of lying.

    (According to Merriam Webster online:
    intransitive verb
    1 : to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
    2 : to create a false or misleading impression ).

    So yes, technically, he was making untrue statements with intent to deceive, and was creating a false or misleading impression (this second part should be especially apparent with the specific wording of the ban).

  • Trippy March 7, 2009, 7:27 PM

    Salacious B. Cumb:

    For teh record, I also do not consider that I let OIM off the hook – in my experience this is a typical pattern for him. He’ll be back, maybe in this thread, certainly in another, trolling, and pushing the same message, probably as if nothing has happened, maybe with an out of context quote that he thinks negates a specific point you’ve made against him here.

  • Pat Donnelly March 13, 2009, 2:44 AM

    Poor presentation of an argument includes the conduct of the advocate, so that a clever poster may choose to ruin a theory in the eyes of those who might otherwise have found it attractive.

    The use of anonymous/pseudonymous names facilitates this, but it is possible to publish the i.p. address of each poster with each post. This would help responsible commentary would it not?

    Use of a pseudonym is helpful to objectivity. If an identity is attacked, even though it was used by me, I should feel more secure and more likely to refrain from counter attack?

    Exposing emails to others seems a great idea! Rereading a post, before it is made is good too? Fewer spelling mistakes and greater clarity of thought enable the reader who is the target of our writing, to grasp and respond.

    We are hopefully building a community interested in science and discussing different theories so as to clarify them and to judge what if any experiments or observations may further our joint interest?

    Or just sharing an appreciation of the immensity of reality?

  • Chani March 16, 2009, 4:37 PM

    I have a strong feeling I’m going to regret asking this – especially as I haven’t read all the comments yet. I did try but, seriously, I read this article for the science, not the petty politics.

    So, taking a deep breath, I ask, “What is the Electric Universe theory’s interpretation of the data collected from the NOAO?”

    Is there somewhere I can find a coherent argument as to why the NOAO data should be interpreted in a gravity-centric manner? At the moment all I’m finding is assertions.

    Please forgive me if the question has already been asked and answered here and (please?) direct me to the relevant posts.

    PS I just noticed a flaw in my question. Someone’s going to dismiss my question by asking which electric universe theory I mean. In that case I’d probably have to admit that I have no tertiary training on the subject at all and skulk away with my tail between my legs. I would, however, be wanting to say “the theory that the universe is not electrically inert, and that observed phenomena can be better described in terms of electrical processes and their associated magnetic fields.”

    I would kindly thank you in advance for not making fun of my curiousity.

  • mxtb April 10, 2009, 2:30 AM


    The eyes that mock me sign the way
    Whereto I pass at eve of day.

    Grey way whose violet signals are
    The trysting and the twining star.

    Ah star of evil! star of pain!
    Highhearted youth comes not again

    Nor old heart’s wisdom yet to know
    The signs that mock me as I go.

    James Joyce