Astronomers discovered two supermassive black holes that appear heading to a collision as a result of merged galaxies. The pair of titanic black holes are too large their gravitational waves could ripple through space-time.
Each black hole found nearly 2.5 billion light years away from Earth has a mass of more than 800 million times that of the Sun. Researchers said the pair was producing powerful gravitational waves as they draw closer together in a death spiral.
Each galaxy, including the Milky Way, has at least one supermassive black hole in its center. When two galaxies begin to merge, their central black holes would meet and orbit each other, eventually leading to a collision.
Such event could release strong gravitational waves rippling through space-time. The researchers said that the two recently discovered colliding black holes would cause cosmic ripples that would then lead to a “background noise” of gravitational waves in space.
“Supermassive black hole binaries produce the loudest gravitational waves in the universe,” Chiara Mingarelli, an associate research scientist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City, said in a statement.
Mingarelli’s team said their discovery, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, could help scientists in identifying other nearby supermassive black holes by searching for their gravitational waves. The same process may also help study merging galaxies and the activities of black hole pairs.
“This noise is called the gravitational wave background, and it’s a bit like a chaotic chorus of crickets chirping in the night,” Andy Goulding, lead researcher and an associate research scholar at Princeton University, said. “You can’t discern one cricket from another, but the volume of the noise helps you estimate how many crickets are out there.”
The researchers discovered the two large black holes through the Hubble Space Telescope. The titans were detected using bright stars and gas gathered because of their gravitational tug.
Goulding said the galaxy where the black holes were found “is basically the most luminous galaxy in the universe.”
The researchers hope to use their findings to estimate how many supermassive black hole pairs are near Earth. The team said that there are potentially 112 nearby titans based on detected gravitational waves.