Dec 2, 2021 - Science

Pair of supermassive black holes is closest yet found

Two black holes (bright, white dots) not far from one another, heading for a collision

The two supermassive black holes heading for a collision. Photo: ESO/Voggel et al.

Scientists have found a pair of supermassive black holes that are the closest to Earth discovered so far.

Why it matters: The pair could help scientists learn more about how large black holes in the middle of galaxies like our Milky Way form and grow.

What's happening: The pair of supermassive black holes is located about 89 million light-years away in the galaxy NGC 7727, according to a new study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

  • "The small separation and velocity of the two black holes indicate that they will merge into one monster black hole, probably within the next 250 million years," Holger Baumgardt, a professor at the University of Queensland, and an author of the new study said in a statement.
  • The mass of the larger black hole at the center of the galaxy is about 154 million times the mass of the Sun; the smaller one weighs in at 6.3 million times the Sun's mass.

The big picture: The researchers think the two supermassive black holes in NGC 7727 ended up on this collision course thanks to a galactic merger.

  • "Our finding implies that there might be many more of these relics of galaxy mergers out there and they may contain many hidden massive black holes that still wait to be found," Karina Voggel, of the Strasbourg Observatory in France and an author of the study said in the statement.
  • "It could increase the total number of supermassive black holes known in the local universe by 30 percent."
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