Supermassive black holes are closer than any others observed

The black holes probably form a gravitationally-bound binary system, formed as two galaxies have coalesced.
By Andrew McDonald | Apr 21, 2015
According to a statement from the University of Maryland's College of Computer, Mathematical, & Natural Sciences, a team of scientists have observed two supermassive black holes that are nearer to each other than any other such objects.

The team used the Hawaii-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS1) to scan the skies for quasars, extremely bright objects crated as black holes pull in matter, causing the matter to heat up and give off electromagnetic energy. In their search for a binary pair of black holes, the team searched for variable quasars; binary black holes would devour matter cyclically, leading to periodical intensifying and diminishment of the quasar's emissions.

Pan-STARRS1 observed the same area of the sky once every three days for four years, accruing an immense store of data on objects in its field of view. Among the objects is PSO J334.2028+01.4075, which emits a periodic optical signal every 542 days and has a supermassive black hole nearly 10 billion times more massive than our Sun. Photometric data from the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey and spectroscopic data from the FIRSt Bright Quasar Survey supported the conclusion that the rhythmic emissions of PSO J334.2028+01.4075 indicate the presence of two supermassive black holes in close proximity.

Such binary black hole systems would form as two galaxies complete their merging. The two black holes become gravitationally linked and emit gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. The researchers will content to scan for variable quasars. In 2023, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will make this search far easier, able to view a bigger expanse of sky and identify thousands of binary supermassive black holes.

The new findings were published online on April 14 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.


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