Astronomers discover three merging supermassive black holes


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Using telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, astronomers have discovered three different galaxies that have pairs of supermassive black holes at their center, with all three likely to merge at some point in the future.

First the scientists used the Subaru Telescope to survey more than 34,000 known quasars, high energy supermassive black holes.

The team identified 421 promising cases. However, there was still the chance many of these were not bona-fide dual quasars but rather chance projections such as starlight from our own galaxy. Confirmation required detailed analysis of the light from the candidates to search for definitive signs of two distinct quasars.

Using Keck Observatory’s Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS) and Gemini Observatory’s Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer, Silverman and his team identified three dual quasars, two of which were previously unknown. Each object in the pair showed the signature of gas moving at thousands of kilometers per second under the influence of a supermassive black hole.

From this survey work they now tentatively estimate that only 0.3% of all known quasars are likely made up of a binary, which in turn gives them a rough estimate of how often galaxies with such supermassive black holes collide and merge. This in turn helps them develop theories on galaxy formation.

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One comment

  • Ryan Lawson

    I would imagine that galactic black hole mergers have to give off some spectacular blasts of energy!

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