(ORDO NEWS) — The Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory has photographed the result of an amazing cosmic collision – the galaxy NGC 7727.
This giant was born as a result of a merger of two galaxies, an event that began about a billion years ago. At its center is a pair of supermassive black holes that are destined to merge into one even more massive black hole.
Just as you can accidentally bump into someone on a busy street, galaxies can bump into each other too. In this case, individual stars, as a rule, do not collide, since the distances between them are very large.
Rather, galaxies dance around each other, and gravity creates tidal forces that dramatically change the appearance of the two dancing partners.
“Tails” of stars, gas and dust rotate around galaxies, and as a result, a new merged galaxy of a beautiful asymmetric shape is formed.
The two bright dots at the center of NGC 7727 are another stark reminder of its dramatic past. The core of NGC 7727 is still composed of two of the original galactic nuclei, each containing a supermassive black hole.
This closest pair of supermassive black holes to us is about 89 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius. The
black holes in NGC 7727 are only 1,600 light-years apart and are expected to merge within 250 million years.
The search for similar hidden pairs of supermassive black holes is expected to become easier with the new Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), due to begin operations later this decade in Chile’s Atacama Desert. With ELT, we will be able to make many more such discoveries at the centers of galaxies.
Our home galaxy, which has a supermassive black hole at its center, is on its way to merge with our nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. Perhaps their merger will also be similar to the cosmic dance that we see in NGC 7727.
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