Scientists have spotted a pair of the most powerful monsters known to humans, and this destructive duo is closer to our planet than anything we’ve seen so far.
Fortunately, the two supermassive black holes discovered by astronomers using the very large telescope in Chile are still 89 million light-years away in the galaxy NGC 7727. It is long enough for humanity to continue to sleep well at night for the rest of our lives without being held back by the prospect that this terrible team will come to swallow everything we ever knew.
But while it is a comfortable distance, it is much closer than the previous record for a pair of supermassive black holes, which are 470 million light-years away.
Karina Voggel, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Observatory in France, explains in a statement that these tumultuous doubles form when huge galaxies merge and the supermassive black hole in the center of each sets a course for the collision.
“It’s the first time we’ve found two supermassive black holes that are so close to each other, less than half the distance from the previous record holder.”
This separation is more than it seems, however, 1,600 light-years away.
Voggel is also the lead author of a new paper detailing the new discovery published online Tuesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Remarkably, when the two already supermassive black holes finally collide, it will create an even bigger nightmare vacuum.
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“The small separation and speed of the two black holes indicate that they will merge into a monstrous black hole, probably in the next 250 million years,” adds co-author Holger Baumgardt of the University of Queensland in Australia.
Researchers say they now expect to find more such cosmic colossi in deep space.
“Our discovery implies that there may be many of these galaxy fusion relics there and may contain many massive hidden black holes that are still waiting to be found,” says Voggel. “The total number of known supermassive black holes in the local universe could increase by 30 percent.”
Some may be even closer to Earth, which should be fine as long as we measure the distance in millions of light-years.