(ORDO NEWS) — The strange behavior of the galaxy, located at a distance of about a billion light years from us, suggests that one of the most long-awaited events in modern astronomy may occur in it.
Fluctuations in light from the center of the galaxy SDSS J1430+2303 look suspiciously like a pair of supermassive black holes with a total mass of about 200 million Suns, destined for imminent collision with each other.
The “imminent” in cosmic terms can often span a lifetime. Fortunately, in this case, astronomers predict that if the signal is indeed the result of a collision of colossal black holes, then they will merge within the next three years.
This may be our best chance to see two supermassive black holes collide… but we still don’t know for sure if that’s what’s happening in the heart of J1429+2303. Scientists advise to keep watching the strange galaxy to see if it can be definitively identified.
The first detection of colliding black holes in 2015 ushered in a new era in astronomy. Since then, many more new objects have been discovered thanks to the gravitational waves these massive events send into spacetime.
To date, almost all of these mergers are binary pairs of black holes with masses comparable to those of individual stars. There is a very good reason for this. LIGO and Virgo, the gravitational wave instruments responsible for detection, are designed for this mass range.
The more powerful pulsations produced by the inspiration and collision of supermassive black holes, millions and billions of times the mass of the Sun, are in a frequency range too low for our current observatories.
However, the merger of a pair of supermassive black holes would be a hell of a treat to watch. Even without a detector capable of detecting low-frequency gravitational waves, scientists expect to see a huge flash of light across the entire spectrum.
The data collected in this outbreak can tell us a lot about how these events happen. We don’t quite understand how supermassive black holes get so big, but there are a few clues that binar merging is one mechanism.
We know that galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers, and we have observed not just collisions of pairs and groups of galaxies, but supermassive black holes revolving around each other in mutual, decaying orbits at the centers of these galaxies after the merger.
This can be judged by fluctuations in the light emitted by the galactic center of these galaxies at regular time intervals, which suggests the existence of an orbit.
This brings us back to J1430+2303. Earlier this year, a group of astronomers led by Ning Jiang of the University of Science and Technology of China posted a paper on the arXiv preprint server describing very strange behavior.
Over the course of three years, the oscillations in the galactic core became shorter and shorter, starting with a period of about a year and ending with just one month.
However, it is not entirely clear whether what is happening in the center of J1430 + 2303 is the result of a black hole binarity in general, not to mention one that is about to explode.
Galactic nuclei are strange places that emit signals that are difficult to interpret, which means that something else could be causing the variability in the heart of J1430+2303.
To try to understand this issue, astronomers turned to X-rays. Using data from a series of X-ray observatories over a period of 200 days, a team led by Liming Dou of Guangzhou University in China attempted to identify the high-energy signatures we would expect to see in a nearby supermassive binary black hole in decaying orbit.
They did see changes in the X-ray emission emitted by the galaxy, as well as a type of emission associated with iron falling onto the black hole, which the team detected with 99.96 percent confidence using two different instruments.
This radiation may be associated with binary supermassive black holes; however, the team was unable to measure the characteristics of the “smoking gun” that would confirm the black hole’s binarity.
An analysis of radio observations published in July also yielded no results. So it looks like we’re still not 100 percent sure what’s going on with J1430+2303.
But what we can say with certainty is that something very strange seems to be going on in the center of the galaxy. First of all, it is a mystery, and a very juicy one at that; whether it’s a supermassive binary black hole on the verge of a collision or not, J1430+2303 seems to deserve closer and more detailed attention.
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