NASA scientists have, for the first time, seen the signals of two supermassive black holes beginning to collide. NASA has observed the collision of two galaxies, like the “Antennae Galaxies.” However, scientists had never before seen the critical aspect of those collisions, the merger of two black holes.
According to CNET, scientists have observed the beginning stages of two galaxies merging together as one. However, they have never been able to observe the final stages of that process, which includes the collision of each galaxy’s black hole. But a series of unusual light signals have lead researchers to believe they are now seeing just that.
“The researchers, including scientists from Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, have theorized that an unusual light signal they’re seeing from quasar PG 1302-102 — essentially a black hole emitting light from the superheated particles swirling around its gravitational drain — is being caused by the cosmic dance between two black holes in the system, each located less than the length of our solar system apart.”
As expected, the collision of two supermassive black holes may get pretty messy. In fact, scientists think the collision could warp space-time itself.
“They could release the energy equivalent to 100 million supernova explosions, which would rip apart the galaxy in which they’re floating. The collision would also release gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.”
Science Times reports that black hole mergers are critical to the formation and evolution of large galaxies. Matthew Graham, who is a senior computational scientist, told the Times that “the final stages of the merger of the two supermassive black holes are not yet understood even to a decent level.” Therefore, the discovery of a merger of two supermassive black holes will give astronomers a chance to see exactly what takes place in the process of the collision.
Sadly for scientists, the actual collision won’t take place for another million or so years. In cosmic standards, that is fairly soon, but for humans that is quite a long time to wait. For now, scientists will have to stick with watching as the initial collision takes place to learn more about the process.
Interestingly, though the event won’t be viewable from earth for another million years, it has already taken place. The two black holes NASA are in the process of watching collide are 3.5 billion light years away. This means the collision our scientists are currently witnessing took place over 3 billion years ago.