So close, yet so far.
MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images
Nearly every large galaxy houses at least one supermassive black hole at its center.
Neighboring galaxy NGC 7727 has a pair of black holes at its center, leading researchers to believe it’s the byproduct of galaxies that merged a billion years ago.
ESO/Voggel et al.
It’s the closest black hole pair to Earth ever spotted, at 89 million light years away.
And the pair is also the closest set of black holes to each other, indicating to researchers that they’ll probably collide in the future.
NASA via Giphy
To find the black holes, they watched as strong forces pushed and pulled on stars in the NGC 7727 galaxy.
That helped them pinpoint where the black holes were hiding.
The black holes are just 1,600 light years away from each other.
For comparison, Earth is 89 million light years from NGC 7727.
“It is the first time we find two supermassive black holes that are this close to each other, less than half the separation of the previous record holder.”
Karina Voggel, study co-author
ESO/L. Calçada ; N. Risinger (skysurvey.org); Digitized Sky Survey 2; VST ATLAS team; Voggel et al. Music: Azul Cobalto
Though they’ll likely collide one day, that event has a wide time frame: sometime within the next 250 million years.
Even if NGC 7727’s pair doesn’t collide in our lifetimes, their existence could help researchers better understand how some of the universe’s largest black holes come to be.