Astronomers Discover Two Supermassive Black Holes Spiraling Towards a Collision

Black holes are cosmic monsters that made the universe appear more mysterious than ever. A recent study enables astronomers to discover that a giant black hole around 9 billion light years away now has a companion black hole around its orbit. As the orbit of this supermassive black hole continues shrinking, its visitor moves closer to the host cosmic monster.

Astronomers have never witnessed any event like this in the past. In fact, the existence of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies has inspired our scientists to advance the study of these giant cosmic messy eaters, especially how they form to become so supermassive. Previous studies on supermassive black holes enabled scientists to assume that two smaller supermassive black holes, often merge together to enable a giant supermassive black hole to come into existence.

However, scientists found it challenging to arrive at a conclusion since they were only able to find one pair of supermassive black holes. However, this new study has enabled astronomers to learn more about the formation of supermassive black holes. During the study, scientists observed a supermassive black hole and realized that it has a companion moving closer to its orbit. Astronomers studied the movement of the supermassive black holes and discovered that the two cosmic monsters orbit one another about every two years.

“If the team is correct, the diameter of the binary’s orbit is 10 to 100 times smaller than the only other known supermassive binary, and the pair will merge in roughly 10,000 years.” NASA wrote in a statement, explaining the fascinating discovery. “That might seem like a long time, but it would take a total of about 100 million years for black holes of this size to begin orbiting one another and finally come together. So, this pair is more than 99% of the way to a collision.”

NASA officials, Joseph Lazio and Michele Vallisneri, both working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California released insight into how giant supermassive black holes react in a binary system. The insight also contains information on how scientists can interpret the radio data obtained from the analysis.

How the Insight about the discovery was analyzed

Astronomers used radio telescopes in various strategic positions on Earth to obtain evidence that this supermassive black hole at about 9 billion light years away may have a companion around it. Keep in mind that Black holes do not emit light. However, their gravity can bring together disks of hot gas around their event horizon. In most cases, black holes discharge some particles of these gathered materials into space. Astronomers identify these materials as jets. Studies enabled scientists to discover that these jets can be ejected and stretched across space for millions of light years.

In fact, a jet pointing toward the direction of our home planet tend to appear brighter and more visible to our telescopes than jets pointing away from us. Astronomers were able to conduct this recent study by analyzing the jet pointing towards earth blazars from 9 billion light years away. Researchers identify this blazar as PKS 2131-021 which belongs to the category of 1,800 blazars currently under study by a group of scientists at Caltech in Pasadena. The researchers have been using the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Northern California to monitor these blazars for about 13 years now.

Their primary goal is to understand the general study of blazar behavior. While analyzing the data from this recent study, they were astonished by the strange behaviors of the jets. The brightness of the jets displays regular ups and downs similar to the ticking of a clock. Scientists conclude that regular noticeable ups and downs in the jet brightness are due to the second black hole pulling on the first one as they both orbit around each other every two years. these two supermassive black holes in the PKS 2131-021 are about a few hundred million times the mass of our Sun.

How Scientists Will Verify this Discovery of two merging supermassive black holes

Scientists still have to verify the discovery for accuracy. To successfully do this, the researchers will attempt to spot gravitational waves coming from the system. Scientists have already detected the first gravitational waves coming from black hole binaries and announced it in 2016. Researchers have already analyzed data obtained from three radio telescopes that have studied this system. They studied data obtained from the Owens Valley Observatory starting from 2008 to 2019, the University of Michigan Radio Observatory (1980 to 2012), and the Haystack Observatory (1975 to 1983). After analyzing data from these radio telescopes, they concluded that it matched the predictions showing how the blazar’s brightness changes with time. NASA scientist, Joseph Lazio described the outcome of these years of studies with these words.

“This work is a testament to the importance of perseverance,” said Lazio. “It took 45 years of radio observations to produce this result. Small teams, at different observatories across the country, took data week in and week out, month in and month out, to make this possible.”


This recent discovery has shown that we are still learning the mystery of the Cosmos, especially supermassive black holes. What do you think about this finding?

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