Astronomers spot a trio of black holes on a devastating collision course

Astronomers spot a trio of black holes on a devastating collision course

Astronomers spot a trio of black holes on a devastating collision course

Astronomers have spotted three giant black holes within a titanic collision of three galaxies.

Ryan Pfeifle of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said: "We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this wonderful system".

"We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this wonderful system", lead author Ryan Pfeifle said in a statement.

Data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) collected infrared radiation data that showed evidence of multiple black holes having a feeding frenzy.

A view from multiple telescopes of SDSS J084905.51+111447.2, a system of three merging galaxies found about 1 billion light-years from Earth.

Firstly, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope located in New Mexico, imaged the distant system in optical light. Then, citizen scientists collaborating in Galaxy Zoo, a crowdsourced astronomy mission, helped in tagging it as a machine of colliding galaxies.

Since these three instruments use infrared and infrared spectra to capture images, it easier for them to pierce through the material in comparison to using optical light.

Astronomers then followed up with observations by the Chandra telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona.

The unexpected black hole trio was found through many different observations of the universe, including NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Apart from this, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) also spotted large amounts of gas and dust near one of the black holes.

Finding a singular supermassive black hole is a feat but finding three galaxies are colliding is especially rare.

"Thru the utilization of these most important observatories, we hang identified a brand unique components of identifying triple supermassive dusky holes. Each telescope gives us a different clue about what's going on in these systems", said Ryan Pfeifle.

He said: "We hope to extend our work to find more triples using the same technique".

This can be a solution to the theoretical puzzle, called the "final parsec problem", in which two supermassive black holes can approach each other on distance of several light years, but it will take some extra attraction inside to merge because of the excess energy that they carry in their orbits. According to space researchers, a pair of black holes merge and form a larger black hole and three black holes should ideally merge even faster.

Knowing how to spot triple supermassive black holes could provide clues into how galaxies merge and grow. The merger will also create gravitational waves - ripples in space-time that can be detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo gravitational-wave detector. The influence of a third black hole, as in SDSS J0849+1114, could finally bring them together.

Chandra's contribution revealed powerful X-rays radiating from the system, which served as evidence of material being consumed by black holes.

The paper describing these results appears in The Astrophysical Journal.

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