A galaxy harboring a pair of supermassive black holes might be in for a rude awakening in the coming months, when the enormous creatures spiral together and combine in a display of energy that would practically rock the whole universe.
The mere hint of a forecast that we know when and where such an event would take place has scientists across the globe scurrying for telescope time to attempt to capture a peek in X-rays, gamma rays, and radio waves.
Most galaxies contain supermassive black holes at their cores, but scientists aren’t sure how they grow to be so huge. One notion is that they take up material that causes them to grow large and luminous, resulting in them becoming active galactic nuclei, or AGN. Another idea is that when two galaxies meet, the black holes at their centers start out on a collision path, causing them to merge and grow to supermassive size.
Mergers would pull the black holes closer together, making it impossible to distinguish their light. Instead, gravitational waves are detected at observatories like LIGO, or visually via periodic oscillations in the fingerprints of energy and heat spewed out into the surrounding matter as the pair gets closer to one other.
Ning Jiang of the Chinese University of Science and Technology was operating a survey telescope from the Zwicky Transient Facility in California when he and his team came across data that appeared to be from an AGN with two such black holes, in which the oscillations decreased from one year to three months over a three-year period, implying that the pair of black holes would tie the knot within 100 days.
“If the interpretation is correct, a coordinated, multi-band electromagnetic campaign for this first binary [supermassive black hole] merger event recorded in human history should be planned,” the scientists write in their work, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, and some critics are suspicious.
All we can do now is wait and see
The customary periods of waiting assigned to astronomical study are substantially shorter, since the black holes merging might take 100 to 300 days, or even less, fortunately for everyone engaged and influenced by this very ambitious forecast.
There will be a shower of neutrino particles, which can be detected at the IceCube neutrino observatory in the South Pole, and a gigantic ripple in the fabric of space and time termed a gravitational wave if a merger occurs, coupled with a large flash of light along the electromagnetic spectrum.
Bold assertions need bold proof, and experts who feel the evidence is only circumstantial were interviewed by Science Magazine.
The galaxy, registered as SDSSJ1430+2303, lacked the declining oscillations in its light curve in the years before Jiang began watching it, according to theorist Daniel D’Orazio of the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen. Previously, there were constant releases of energy into the surrounding matter, implying that it is nothing more than a black hole binary galaxy.
The LIGO-Virgo collaborations reported the first detection of gravitational waves on September 14, 2015, from a signal of two black holes with masses of 29 and 36 solar masses merging some 1.3 billion light-years apart. It emitted more than 50 times the power of all the stars in the visible universe combined during the last fraction of a second of the merger.
This merger would be far larger. They would have the mass of hundreds of millions of suns instead of 36 times the mass of the sun, and no one can determine for sure what the visible impact would be in this situation.