Scientists find black holes “near” Earth and on collision course

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At 1,600 light-years apart, two supermassive black holes are expected to collide in about 250 million years. They are the closest pair to Earth, and the distance between them is the shortest ever found between two supermassive black holes.

The largest of them has a mass 154 million times that of the Sun, while the smallest corresponds to 6.3 million times the mass of the Sun.

They were found by researcher Karina Voggel and her colleagues at the Université de Strasbourg, France. Scientists used the array of telescopes from the Very Large Telescope observatory, located in Chile. The findings were published in the academic journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The black holes are in a gakaxia called NGC 7727, which is approximately 89 million light years from Earth. The biggest one is at the center of the galaxy. The smallest, about 1,600 light-years from the first — it probably belonged to a smaller galaxy, which was swallowed up by NGC 7727 billions of years ago.

Researchers believe that, in 250 million years, black holes will collide and merge, becoming a single colossal black hole. Scientists have now been able to find them because the holes are more than five times closer to Earth than any other supermassive pair.

According to Voggel, scientists are not usually able to observe this phase of black hole fusion. “These astronomical processes take billions of years, so we can’t track them when they happen, but we do track this one during the fusion process,” he says.

According to the research, it was possible to identify black holes from the rapid movements of the stars close to them — and not by the most common method, by observing the light that some black holes emit when the matter around them is sucked into them. “In this case, the black holes are silent,” says Voggel. “That’s why these were ignored.”

The scientist believes that there may be many other “hidden” black holes outside the centers of galaxies. She estimates that if we count secondary black holes (off-centers like this one smaller), the number of known supermassive black holes in the universe would increase by as much as 30%.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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