The observations, made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii, may indicate that these monster objects may be more common than once thought.
Until now, the biggest supermassive black holes – those roughly 10 billion times the mass of our sun – have been found at the cores of very large galaxies in regions of the universe packed with other large galaxies. In fact, the current record holder tips the scale at 21 billion suns and resides in the crowded Coma galaxy cluster that consists of over 1,000 galaxies.
The pair of black holes is called PG 1302-102. Earlier this year, ground-based telescopes spotted the two black holes 3.5 billion light-years away in the Virgo constellation. What makes the pair so special? They are separated by just a light-week. The next closest black hole pair is separated by 20 light-years.
Earlier this year, ground-based telescopes spotted the two black holes 3.5 billion light-years away in the Virgo constellation. What makes the pair so special? They are separated by just a light-week. The next closest black hole pair is separated by 20 light-years.
Zoltan Haiman, a senior author of a study published today, explains the significance of this black hole pair. “This is the closest we’ve come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision,” said Haiman. “Watching this process reach its culmination can tell us whether black holes and galaxies grow at the same rate, and ultimately test a fundamental property of space-time: its ability to carry vibrations called gravitational waves, produced in the last, most violent, stage of the merger.”
Unfortunate space travellers won’t be able to return to their own universe, according to Hawking. But they will be able to escape somewhere else, he has proposed at a conference in Stockholm.
Black holes in fact aren’t as “black” as people thought and could be a way of getting through to an alternative universe.
“The existence of alternative histories with black holes suggests this might be possible,” Hawking said, according to a report from Stockholm University. “The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe. So although I’m keen on space flight, I’m not going to try that.