Astronomers at The University of New Mexico have confirmed the existence of orbiting supermassive black holes hundreds of millions of light years from Earth,
“For a long time, we’ve been looking into space to try and find a pair of these supermassive black holes orbiting as a result of two galaxies merging,” said University of New Mexico professor Greg Taylor in a statement.
Taylor worked on the study with Karishma Bansal, lead author and graduate student in the Department of Ohysics and Astronomy, along with colleagues at Stanford, the US Naval Observatory, and the Gemini Observatory.
Using the Very Long Baseline Array telescope (VLBA), they were able to observe and measure the orbital motion between the two black holes. As reported by Forbes, the team of researchers recorded the frequencies of radio signals emitted by the two supermassive black holes for a period of 12 years. It was a stellar technical achievement, owing to the fact that the 12-year data comprises the smallest ever recorded movement in the universe. So much so that it was estimated to be about “a billion times smaller than the smallest thing visible with the naked eye.”
“If you imagine a snail on the recently discovered Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri – a bit over four light years away – moving at one centimeter a second, that’s the angular motion we’re resolving here,” Roger W. Romani, professor of physics at Stanford and study co-author, said in a statement.
Early last year, an international team of researchers working on the LIGO project detected gravitational waves coming from a collision of two massive black holes, confirming Albert Einstein’s 100-year-old prediction. The discovery has provided researchers with relevant data that could give them a better understanding of what happens in the aftermath of a merger between two supermassive black holes. As has been already established, a merger between black holes creates ripples in the fabric of space-time.
Using the decade-long data, astronomers are looking to determine how black holes merge, how mergers impact the evolution of galaxies, and how they can find other binary pairs in the universe.
Astronomers said that the two supermassive black holes they’ve detected are the largest found in the universe. They said that if the pair merged, it would produce the most powerful gravitational burst in the universe.
While the predicted collision between the two black holes promises to be an event of cosmic proportions, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen before the estimated end of the universe, which is why researchers responsible for the study are hoping their discovery will inspire others to find other binary systems that are closer together. By observing an actual merger of two supermassive blackholes, scientists may yield data that can be applied to a more human timescale.
“I would sure be happy if we could find a system that completed orbit within a few decades so you could really see the details of the black holes’ trajectories,” Romani said.
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