Closely separated duo likely to merge in a million years
NASA/CXC/A. Hobart, Josh Barnes (U. of Hawaii), John Hibbard (NRAO)
SEATTLE — Two supermassive black holes are preparing to face off in the center of a distant galaxy. The cuddled-up pair are closer to each other than any other known black hole duo, providing astronomers a first peek at the final stages of a possible collision.
The two black holes live roughly 3.7 billion light-years away in a quasar, the ferociously bright core of a galaxy lit up by superheated gas spiraling onto a supermassive black hole. Quasars typically vary in brightness randomly. But the light from this quasar, designated PG 1302-102, varied with a steady period over the last two decades, suggesting that two black holes were working together, Caltech astronomer George Djorgovski reported January 7 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The research also appears online January 7 in Nature.