(ORDO NEWS) — Using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have discovered the closest pair of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) ever observed in the history of science. In addition, the distance between these two SMBHs is unprecedentedly small in the entire history of space observations, and ultimately the two black holes will merge into one.
Karina Vogel (KT Vogel) and her team were able to determine the masses of these two objects by observing how the gravity of two black holes circling relative to each other affects the surrounding stars. A large black hole located right in the nucleus of the galaxy NGC 7727 has a mass of about 154 million times the mass of the Sun, Vogel and her group found, while the second black hole has a mass of about 6.3 million times the mass of our star.
In this study, using the method described above, the masses of the components of an SMBH pair were estimated for the first time. This was made possible by the system’s proximity to Earth and detailed observations made by the team using the VLT’s Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument. Mass measurements with the MUSE instrument, combined with additional data from NASA / ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope, have allowed the team to confirm that objects in the galaxy NGC 7727 are actually SMBHs.
Astronomers suspected that there are two of these black holes in this galaxy, but it has not yet been possible to confirm their existence, since scientists have not seen a large amount of high-energy radiation in the vicinity of black holes, which usually betrays the presence of such objects. “Our findings mean there are many more such inter-galaxy collision remnants that could be lurking in the Universe, where massive black holes could be lurking,” Vogel said. “This could increase the total number of SMBHs known in the local Universe by 30 percent.”
The work was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
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