Two pairs of giant black holes, each in a different dwarf galaxy, are hurtling toward each other, poised for two separate, never-before-seen collisions.
Astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to watch the four black holes in the dwarf galaxy race towards each other, dragging a huge train of gas and stars in their wake. Some of this material is already sucked into the black holes, causing them to grow bigger and bigger before finally collapsing.
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The first pair was seen in the cluster of galaxies Abell 133, 760 million light-years from Earth, and the other was seen in the cluster of galaxies Abell 1758S, about 3.2 billion light-years away. They will collide and merge to form even larger galaxies, and studying them as they approach each other can help astronomers understand how the cosmic monsters lurking in the universe got so big. The findings were published Nov. 8 in the preprint database arXiv and have been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
“We have identified the first two distinct pairs of black holes in colliding dwarf galaxies,” study co-author Olivia Holmes, a physics student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said in a statement. “Using these systems as analogs to those in the early universe allows us to dig deeper into questions about the first galaxies, their black holes and star formation that caused the collisions.”
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Black holes are born from the collapse of giant stars and grow by incessantly cramming gas, dust, stars and other black holes into the star-forming galaxies they contain. Where the first black holes came from is a question that has long puzzled scientists.
Previous simulations of the “cosmic dawn” — the era encompassing the universe’s first billion years — have suggested billowing clouds of cold gas may have coalesced into giant stars doomed to collapse rapidly, creating black holes. As these black holes grew in size, the ever-expanding streams of gas around them collapsed into stars and eventually formed dwarf galaxies.
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Astronomers theorize that as the universe grew, the first black holes of dwarf galaxies quickly merged with others to seed even larger supermassive black holes — and with them larger galaxies — throughout the cosmos. But until now, no such mergers between black holes in dwarf galaxies had been observed.
To search for these elusive black hole mergers, the researchers conducted a survey of Chandra X-ray observations before comparing them to data collected in infrared frequencies by NASA’s Wide Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and in optical frequencies by the Canada-France – Hawaii Telescope. (CFT). Because the maws of gas orbiting black holes can heat up to millions of degrees, the researchers used Chandra to find pairs of galaxies that emitted high-energy X-rays. Sure enough, they found not one but two pairs.
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The astronomers noted that the first pair, in Abell 133, was already in the later stages of a merger, and gravitational-tide effects have stretched a long tail of material around the two black holes the researchers named “Mirabilis” after. an endangered species. of long-tailed hummingbird. The two black holes in Abell 1758S — named “Elstir” and “Vinteuil” after fictional artists in Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” — are in the early stages of fusion and are connected by a giant bridge of stars and gas that stretched out between them.
The researchers say that further study of the dwarf galaxies could provide some vital clues about how the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole grew from a tiny seedling of a black hole to its current gargantuan size.
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“Most dwarf galaxies and black holes in the early universe are now likely to have grown much larger due to repeated mergers,” study co-author Brenna Wells, a physics student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said in the statement. “In some ways, dwarf galaxies are our galactic ancestors, evolving over billions of years into large galaxies like our own Milky Way.”