Chandra image of binary supermassive black hole
Credit: NASA/CXC/MPE/S.Komossa et al.

Two Black Hearts

Two galaxies passing in the night collide. What happens? The mutual gravitational interaction between the two galaxies may cause bursts of new stars. But galaxies often contain supermassive black holes in their centers. A merger of galaxies might mean a merger of black holes, and may be one way nature builds supermassive black holes, by combining smaller black holes together. A new observation of the galaxy NGC 6240 has perhaps revealed this mechanism in motion. NGC 6240 is a the remnant of a merger of 2 smaller galaxies. Now an observation with the Chandra X-ray Observatory of the center of this galaxy has revealed the presence of 2 X-ray sources which astronomers have identified as supermassive black holes. The image above shows the 2 black holes as two X-ray sources superimposed on an optical image of the galaxy. The black holes appear as blue sources, indicating that these two objects are bright sources of high energy X-rays. These two black holes are about 3000 lightyears apart from each other. Over the course of the next few hundred million years, these black holes should drift together, eventually spiralling into each other to combine in a titanic explosion of gamma rays and, even more strangely, gravity waves.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified November 25, 2002