Astronomers have calculated between which months the collision of these 2 cosmic objects, hundreds of millions of times more massive than the Sun, would occur.
In the center of a galaxy located 1.2 billion light years from Earth, two huge black holes have been getting so close that their collision and merger is imminent, and such an event could even be observed in ‘real time’ this year, according to a recent prediction by a team of Chinese astronomers.
The scientific community estimates that each galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center, cosmic objects that concentrate millions of times the mass of the Sun and feed on the surrounding matter, emitting a powerful glow at different wavelengths. However, some merged galaxies may host two or more of these dark giants.
As described in their preliminary document uploaded last week to the arXiv platform, the aforementioned team of astronomers detected in the nucleus of the galaxy SDSSJ1430+2303 a glow of X-rays and visible light that dims and brightens regularly, a sign that two black holes orbit each other as they suck in surrounding gas and dust with their powerful gravity.
Orbiting closer and closer
“My first instinct was that it must be related to a pair of supermassive black holes,” said study lead author Ning Jiang (University of Science and Technology of China), according to the journal Science.
But not only that. According to the data obtained with the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) telescope, located in California, the signal that both objects were ‘eclipsing’ was repeated in increasingly shorter periods: in a span of 3 years, they went from detecting these signals every 1 year to every 1 month.
This month-long oscillation was confirmed by the researchers when they used the X-ray telescopes at NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. According to Jiang, these black holes are as close as Pluto to the Sun.
Also, based on the apparent motion of these bodies and their effects on the galactic center, the authors have estimated that black holes together have a mass of hundreds of millions of suns.
When will these black holes collide?
According to the team’s calculations, if this approaching trend continues due to mutual gravitational attraction, both black holes will merge within 100 to 300 days. This means that it could occur between May and December 2022.
It should be noted that, according to the document, there are other —less likely— merger scenarios that could lengthen the wait up to three years.
Gravitational waves are vibrations in space-time that arise when two compact objects collide with each other. Since 2015, scientists have been capturing these signals, which come mostly from black hole mergers. The way in which the waves arrive allows us to infer the orbits in which the objects were moving in the moments before the event.
Great expectation to capture the merger
After the study was published, several astronomers requested time on the telescopes to confirm the prediction, said Huan Yang, a researcher at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, and a member of the team.
According to Science, Emma Kun of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, began searching archives of radio observations to confirm what the Chinese team detected.
The great expectation is due in part to the fact that astronomers will have the opportunity to be prepared to capture a cosmic phenomenon of this type, something that is unprecedented.
“There should be a big burst across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma rays to radio waves,” Kun explained. In addition, the phenomenon is expected to produce a large emission of neutrinos.
The detection of all these effects of the merger would not only confirm a prediction, but also reinforce one of the most accepted theories about supermassive black holes, the one that suggests that the growth of these monsters is mainly due to their merger with other black holes. , since all the mass accumulated inside them cannot be explained only by the ‘food’ that they have available around them.
“If the crash happens, it will confirm a lot of things,” Kun said.
More observations required
However, experts such as Scott Ransom of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and Daniel D’Orazio of the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark are of the opinion that the oldest data from the center of the galaxy SDSSJ1430+2303 do not agree with a model of two black holes orbiting each other. Therefore, they wonder why those signs started all of a sudden.