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Pair of Heaviest Black Holes Ever Seen Spotted by Astronomers: Trapped in Orbital Limbo

SPACE — Astronomers have spotted a pair of the heaviest black holes ever seen. Both weigh the equivalent of 28 billion suns. The combined mass of the two black holes is so large that they resist colliding and merging.

The binary black hole, embedded in the fossil galaxy B2 0402+379, consists of two giant supermassive black holes rotating around each other just 24 light years away. That distance makes them the closest pair of black holes ever seen.

Despite their close proximity, these twin monsters are trapped in orbital limbo. They no longer approach each other, and instead continue to repeat the same dance for more than 3 billion years.

Astronomers are still unsure whether the black hole duel will continue without a break or end in a spectacular collision. The researchers reported their findings in the Astrophysical Journal on Tuesday, January 5, 2024.

Also Read: Every Day, This Brightest Black Hole Devours ‘One Sun’

“Usually galaxies with lighter black hole pairs have enough stars and mass to bring them together quickly,” said study co-author Roger Romani.

The professor of physics at Stanford University continued, because the pair is very heavy, it takes a lot of stars and gas to complete the duel until it merges. However, the binaries have explored the material from the center of the galaxy, so they have now stopped.

Black holes are born from the collapse of giant stars, and grow by devouring anything close to them, be it gas, dust, stars, or other black holes. But where the first black holes came from is still a mystery.

Simulations of the cosmic dawn in the first 1 billion years of the universe show that black holes were born from clouds of cold gas and dust that billowed and merged into massive stars. The stars then rapidly collapsed. After birth, these black holes grew larger, following a trail of gas around them that eventually collapsed into the first stars in the small galaxy.

Also Read: New Record, NASA Telescope Finds Oldest Black Hole

Astronomers theorize that as the universe expanded, black holes within dwarf galaxies rapidly merged with other galaxies. This results in larger supermassive black holes with larger galaxies.

To find the nearly merging pair of black holes, astronomers scoured archives of data collected by the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. Using the telescope’s spectrograph (GMOS), they split the light from the star into different colors. Scientists then discovered light from stars moving rapidly around the black hole.

This led astronomers to B2 0402+379, a fossil cluster that formed when an entire galaxy cluster of stars and gas merged into one giant galaxy. “GMOS’s excellent sensitivity allows us to map the increase in stellar velocities as we look closer to the center of the galaxy,” Romani said. With that, he said, they could deduce the total mass of the black hole there.

The pair of black holes in a number of merging galaxies are thought to have approached by first entering each other’s orbits. They get closer as the motion dissipates angular momentum by tugging on nearby stars.

2024-03-05 21:53:00
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