Supermassive Black Holes Collide in Galactic Merger Grand Finales

These images reveal the final stage of a union between pairs of galactic nuclei in the messy cores of colliding galaxies. Credit NASA ESA and M. Koss

Peering through thick walls of gas and dust surrounding the merging galaxies' messy cores, the research team captured pairs of supermassive black holes - each of which once occupied the center of one of the two original smaller galaxies - drawing closer together before they coalescence into one giant black hole.

Astrophysicists now believe there are about 10,000 black holes at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, all of which surround a supermassive black hole at its core. For instance, at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy lies Sagittarius A*, which is about 4.5 million solar masses in size.

Astronomers have detected enormous black holes as multiple pairs of galaxies collide and merge into larger galaxies.

The statement adds that the growth of the black holes comes from the last 10 to 20 million years of the merged galaxy, and expects that over the next 10 million years, the black holes will merge "to form a more massive black hole".

According to NASA, a "galaxy merger" is a slow process that can take more than a billion years to complete.

We see two galaxy nuclei right when the images were taken.

"Seeing the pairs of merging galaxy nuclei associated with these huge black holes so close together was pretty fantastic", Michael Koss, one of the researchers from Eureka Scientific Inc. who studied the images, said in a release. When black holes devour matter, such "active" black holes can generate high-energy X-rays visible even through thick clouds of gas and dust. Observations made with the Hubble telescope represent more than two decades worth of images. Deformable mirrors controlled by computer, a technology called adaptive optics at the Keck Observatory help sharpen images of stars, "leading to a huge increase in resolution", study lead author Michael Koss told Space.com. Koss is an astrophysicist at scientific research company Eureka Scientific in Oakland, California.

"It would be like going from 20/200 vision, where you are legally blind, to 20/20 vision, helping us see galaxies in incredible detail", he said.

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A team of astronomers claim to have found several pairs of galaxies in the final stages of merging together into single, larger galaxies. Top: NGC 6240, as imaged by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, paired with a close-up of the galactic cores in infrared light by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Credit: M. Koss (Eureka Scientific, Inc.)/NASA/ESA;Keck images: M. Koss (Eureka Scientific, Inc.)/W.M.

To check their results, they compared the survey galaxies with a control group of 176 other galaxies, from the Hubble archive, that lack actively growing black holes.

Something similar is expected to happen when our Milky Way galaxy crashes with the nearby Andromeda galaxy, though it's not expected to happen anytime soon, the researchers said.

Some of the most powerful objects in the entire universe are black holes. To find out more, check out the Computing AI & Machine Learning Live website.

In this group, only about one per cent of the surveyed galaxies were suspected to host pairs of black holes in the later stages of merging together.

Scientists snapped pairs of black holes crashing together as their host galaxies merge in a huge celestial explosion.

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