SEATTLE — Two supermassive black holes are getting ready to face off in the center of a faraway galaxy. The cuddled-up couple is closer to each other than any other known black hole duo, providing astrophysicists a first glance at the final phases of a probable collision.
The two black holes live about 3.7 billion light-years away in a “Quasar”, the viciously bright core of a galaxy lit up by superheated gas spiralling onto a supermassive black hole. Quasars normally vary in brightness arbitrarily. But the light from this quasar, entitled PG 1302-102, varied with a stable period over the last two decades, proposing that two black holes were working together, Caltech astrophysicist George Djorgovskireported January 7 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The study also published online January 7 in Nature.
Detached by just a few hundredths of a light-year, the black holes will perhaps spiral together and combine to form a single behemoth black hole in approximately 1 million years. Theories of galaxy formation forecast that close black hole pairs should be comparatively common, arising out of the collision of two galaxies. But as they’re so far away, binary black holes are an obscure quarry.
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