Astronomers are keenly observing the final stages of the merger of two galaxies. As the galaxies close in on each other, scientists theorize that their supermassive black holes will form a “binary” pair in such close proximity that they are gravitationally bound to one another.
Recent detection of a pulsating quasar may serve as evidence of the existence of such a pair of black holes. The discovery was identified in a new study at the University of Maryland.
“We believe we have observed two supermassive black holes in closer proximity than ever before,” Suvi Gezari, assistant professor of astronomy at the university and a co-author of a new study published last week in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, said, in a statement.
“This pair of black holes may be so close together that they are emitting gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.”
Quasars – short for short for quasi-stellar radio source or quasi-stellar object – may be described as enormously bright masses of energy and light. They are extremely distant; perhaps the furthest objects away from our galaxy that can be seen. A quasar is created when black holes consume surrounding matter and that matter is heated and accelerated to the point where it emits massive amounts of energy, creating examples of some of the brightest energy sources in the galaxy.
Scientists involved in the study observed quasar PSO J334.2028+01.4075 – containing a massive black hole of around 10 billion solar masses – with the help of powerful ground-based telescopes. They detected emissions of periodic flashes of light repeating every 542 days. This periodic brightening and dimming of the quasar can only be attributed to the consumption of matter as a result of a pair of black holes orbiting in a binary pairing.
“The discovery of a compact binary candidate supermassive black hole system like PSO J334.2028+01.4075, which appears to be at such close orbital separation, adds to our limited knowledge of the end stages of the merger between supermassive black holes,” Tingting Liu, the paper’s lead author, said in the statement.
“What’s really cool is that we may be able to watch the orbital separation of these supermassive black holes get smaller and smaller until they merge.”
However, it is not certain that researchers would be able to observe the actual merger of these two black holes. But if they do, it will provide valuable insights on the “final parsec problem,” which refers to the failure of current theoretical models in predicting what the final stages of a black hole merger may look like.
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