This is cannibalism on the cosmic scale. Two black holes have been found by the Chandra X-Ray Telescope gobbling matter from one another. The black holes are in the process of merging with one another. The real excitement is that this is close to home on the scale of the cosmos about 160 million light years away.
The galaxy in the limelight is NGC3393. The two black holes are separated by only 490 light years. One of them has a mass of 30 million suns and other is much smaller at one million solar mass. The bigger one is gobbling up matter surrounding the smaller one.
The close proximity of the black holes has also got scientists excited. It is because these supermassive black holes are so close that Chandra could resolve them into two distinct objects. When a black hole accretes matter, i.e. just gathers by sucking the matter around it, the matter gets hot enough to radiate profusely in the X-Ray region. These radiations occur close to the event horizon and this is where Chandra X-Ray Telescope can work its magic. But even Chandra couldn’t have spotted such a double black hole system if it were farther away.
Many that got away?
What we are seeing is really a merger. Black holes merge to become even bigger black holes. It is surprising that NGC3393 still retains the elliptic shape that it originally had. The perturbations occur near the central part and do not propagate throughout the galaxy. NASA scientists think that this is one reason why black hole mergers or double black hole systems have rarely been observed till date. The expected tell-tale signs like galactic perturbations are not really there. Astronomers now want to train Chandra’s eagle-eye on more boring candidates.
The findings were published yesterday in the science journal Nature.
The Universe is not only queerer than we imagine. It is, by all means, queerer than we can possibly imagine!