Astronomers Discover two Supermassive Black Holes Orbiting Each Other, Doomed to Collide in the Future.

Until recently, one of the closest orbiting each other pairs of supermassive blackholes was found in NGC 7727. That pair is about 89 million light-years away from Earth. Those black holes are only 1,600 light-years apart from each other. Another pair in OJ 287, about 3.5 billion light-years from Earth, are only separated by about 0.3 light years. Now scientists have discovered a pair orbiting each other at a distance of 200 AU to 2,000 AU apart, about 0.003 to 0.03 light years.

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Merging Black Holes and Neutron Stars. All the Gravitational Wave Events Seen So Far in One Picture

The mergers of compact objects discovered so far by LIGO and Virgo (in O1, O2 and O3a). The diagram shows black holes (blue), neutron stars (orange) and compact objects of unknown nature (grey), which were detected by their gravitational-wave emission. Each merger of a binary system corresponds to three compact objects shown: the two merging objects and the result of the merger. A selection of black holes (violet) and neutron stars (yellow) discovered by electromagnetic observations is shown for comparison. Image Credit: LIGO Virgo Collaboration / Frank Elavsky, Aaron Geller / Northwestern

The Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of black holes and neutron stars. Einstein gets the credit for the theory because of his paper published in 1915, even though other scientists’ work helped it along. But regardless of the minds behind it, the theory predicted black holes, neutron stars, and the gravitational waves from their mergers.

It took about one hundred years, but scientists finally observed these mergers and their gravitational waves in 2015. Since then, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration has detected many of them. The collaboration has released a new catalogue of discoveries, along with a new infographic. The new infographic displays the black holes, neutron stars, mergers, and the other uncertain compact objects behind some of them.

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Behold! The Black Hole Collision Calculator!

This image shows two massive black holes in the OJ 287 galaxy. The smaller black hole orbits the larger one, which is also surrounded by a disk of gas. When the smaller black hole crashes through the disk, it produces a flare brighter than 1 trillion stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Black holes have been the subject of intense interest ever since scientists began speculating about their existence. Originally proposed in the early 20th century as a consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, black holes became a mainstream subject a few decades later. By 1971, the first physical evidence of black holes was found and by 2016, the existence of gravitational waves was confirmed for the first time.

This discovery touched off a new era in astrophysics, letting people know collision between massive objects (black holes and/or neutron stars) creates ripples in spacetime that can be detected light-years away. To give people a sense of how profound these events are, Álvaro Díez created the Black Hole Collision Calculator (BHCC) – a tool that lets you see what the outcome of a collision between a black hole and any astronomical object would be!

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Why Can Black Hole Binaries Have Dramatically Different Masses? Multiple Generations of Mergers

Simulated merger of two black holes. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

On the 12th of April, 2019, the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave observatories detected the merger of two black holes. Named GW190412, one of the black holes was eight solar masses, while the other was 30 solar masses. On the 14th of August that year, an even more extreme merger was observed, when a 2.5 solar mass object merged with a black hole nearly ten times more massive. These mergers raise fundamental questions about the way black hole mergers happen.

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It might just be possible to see a light flash too when black holes merge

Artist's concept of a supermassive black hole and its surrounding disk of gas. Embedded within this disk are two smaller black holes orbiting one another.
Artist's concept of a supermassive black hole and its surrounding disk of gas. Embedded within this disk are two smaller black holes orbiting one another. Image credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Black hole merger events are some of the most energetic, fearsomely energetic events in all the cosmos. When black holes merge, they’re entirely invisible, the only evidence of the cataclysm some faint whisper of gravitational waves. Until now.

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New Simulations Show How Black Holes Grow, Through Mergers and Accretion

Artist's impression of two merging black holes. Credit: Bohn, Throwe, Hébert, Henriksson, Bunandar, Taylor, Scheel/SXS

One of the most pressing questions in astronomy concerns black holes. We know that massive stars that explode as supernovae can leave stellar mass black holes as remnants. And astrophysicists understand that process. But what about the supermassive black holes (SMBHs) like Sagittarius A-star (Sgr A*,) at the heart of the Milky Way?

SMBHs can have a billion solar masses. How do they get so big?

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14% of all the Massive Stars in the Universe are Destined to Collide as Black Holes

This illustration shows the merger of two black holes and the gravitational waves that ripple outward as the black holes spiral toward each other. The black holes—which represent those detected by LIGO on Dec. 26, 2015—were 14 and 8 times the mass of the sun, until they merged, forming a single black hole 21 times the mass of the sun. In reality, the area near the black holes would appear highly warped, and the gravitational waves would be difficult to see directly. Credit: LIGO/T. Pyle

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity predicted that black holes would form and eventually collide. It also predicted the creation of gravitational waves from the collision. But how often does this happen, and can we calculate how many stars this will happen to?

A new study from a physicist at Vanderbilt University sought to answer these questions.

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There’s a New Record for the Most Massive Black Hole Ever Seen: 40 Billion Solar Masses

Image of Abell 85 cluster of galaxies obtained at the USM Wendelstein observatory of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University. The central bright galaxy Holm15A has an extended core. A team of astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the University Observatory Munich were able to use new data to directly measure the mass of central black hole of this galaxy: it is 40 billion times more massive than our Sun. Image Credit: Matthias Kluge/USM/MPE

Astronomers have spotted a 40 billion solar mass black hole in the Abell 85 cluster of galaxies. They found the behemoth using spectral observations with the Very Large Telescope (VLT.) There are only a few direct mass measurements for black holes, and at about 700 million light years from Earth, this is the most distant one.

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Astronomers Have Found a Place With Three Supermassive Black Holes Orbiting Around Each Other

The three black holes at the center of three separate galaxies as imaged by Chandra and other telescopes. Image Credit: Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/George Mason Univ./R. Pfeifle et al.; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI

Astronomers have spotted three supermassive black holes (SMBHs) at the center of three colliding galaxies a billion light years away from Earth. That alone is unusual, but the three black holes are also glowing in x-ray emissions. This is evidence that all three are also active galactic nuclei (AGN,) gobbling up material and flaring brightly.

This discovery may shed some light on the “final parsec problem,” a long-standing issue in astrophysics and black hole mergers.

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