Astronomers have spotted three supermassive black holes that are on a collision course as the three galaxies that they were located in collided, according to a new study.
This supergiant crash is placed approximately a billion light-years from the Earth in the system which is termed as SDSS J084905.51+111447.2 system. To observe this unique collision, space scientists had to use telescopes both on the ground as well as in space.
Firstly, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope located in New Mexico, imaged the distant system in optical light. Then, with the help of citizen scientists that are participating in a project called Galaxy Zoo, it was tagged as a system of colliding galaxies.
After this, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission showed that the system was glowing intensely in infrared light from the collision. Then to follow up further, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory showed bright light points at the centre of each of the three colliding galaxies, right where astronomers expect the black holes to reside. Apart from this, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) also spotted large amounts of gas and dust near one of the black holes.
The findings from the research of this rare triple galaxy collision were published in The Astrophysical Journal.
“We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this amazing system,” lead author Ryan Pfeifle said in a statement. “This is the strongest evidence yet found for such a triple system of actively feeding supermassive black holes.”
Such a huge collision feels as if it would seem to be pretty obvious, however, three supermassive black holes eating up everything in their path in the middle of a giant merger of galaxies unleases a lot of gas and dust which can hide the event from the ambit of our telescopes. But the images and data taken from different wavelengths of light provided all of the necessary pieces to reconstruct the giant puzzle of the galaxies.
“Through the use of these major observatories, we have identified a new way of identifying triple supermassive black holes. Each telescope gives us a different clue about what’s going on in these systems,” Pfeifle said in the statement. “We hope to extend our work to find more triples using the same technique.”
Earlier, black holes in pairs have been observed, but it is the first time three have been spotted nearby. According to space researchers, a pair of black holes merge and form a larger black hole and three black holes should ideally merge even faster. Previously, space scientists have been puzzled over “final parsec problem,” where two black holes get close but require another factor for overcoming their huge energy and merge.
An another result of these giant merging black holes are the gravitational waves which are ripples through spacetime.
“Dual and triple black holes are exceedingly rare,” Shobita Satyapal, the co-author of the study said in the statement. “But such systems are actually a natural consequence of galaxy mergers, which we think is how galaxies grow and evolve.”