Układ znajduje się 9 miliardów lat świetlnych od Ziemi (fot. NASA/UW)

9 billion light-years from Earth, a pair of supermassive black holes have been discovered at the center of a distant active galaxy. Things rotate every two years, which is kind of like a space dance. The emission of gravitational waves causes the distance between them to decrease. For only 10 thousand. Years can collide with each other – informs the University of Warsaw.

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An international team of scientists has provided evidence of a pair of supermassive black holes at the center of the galaxy, PKS 2131-021, about 9 billion light-years from Earth.

Two supermassive black holes, each hundreds of millions of times larger than the sunThey orbited each other for about two years. This cosmic dance is the source of massive gravitational waves, the emission of which causes the distance between black holes to rapidly reduce. It is estimated that they will collide and communicate with each other in about 10,000. years – says Dr. Przemyslav Mroz of the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw.

Dr. Maroz was involved in the research and is co-author of an article describing the discovery in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

PKS 2131-021 is a quasar, i.e. an active galaxy with a massive force. Astronomers believe that at the center of each quasar is a giant black hole that absorbs gas when it falls on it.

Some quasars form jets, which are streams of material ejected from the quasar at close to the speed of light. The galaxy under study belongs to a small subgroup of quasars, called blazars, the flow of which points toward the observer on Earth. The astronomer explains that quasars emit electromagnetic radiation in a wide range – from X-rays to optical radiation to radio.

According to the scientist, the movement of black holes causes the plane to change its position, which produces periodic changes in the brightness of the galaxy in the radio band. Such differences in brightness were detected in archival data collected by three US radio observatories: the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), the University of Michigan Radio Astronomy Observatory (UMRAO), and the Haystack Observatory.

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The chaotic difference of quasars

When we realized that archival data collected over the past 45 years indicated periodic changes in the brightness of the quasar, we realized it was something unique – says Dr. Maroz.

The scientist was responsible for the mathematical modeling of the quasar glow curve. Note, usually, that quasars have a chaotic variety, and that this object regularly glows and fades.

black holes At the galactic center, PKS 2131-021, is about 2,000 astronomical units away (one AU is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun) and they orbit each other over a period of only about two years. For comparison, a comet at a distance of 2,000 AU from the Sun orbits around it in a period of 90,000. Years.

Scientists believe that supermassive black holes are found in the centers of all galaxies, including the Milky Way.

– When galaxies merge with each other, which is relatively common in the young universe, black holes at their centers must mate and eventually merge. This process must be accompanied by the emission of gravitational waves. So far, this theory has not been observed by observation. The discovery of a pair of supermassive black holes in the galaxy PKS 2131-021 gives hope that this will soon change – Explains the astronomer.

Gravitational waves were first detected directly by the LIGO and Virgo observatories, in which astronomers from the University of Warsaw participated in the work. The supermassive black holes at the center of the galaxy PKS 2131-021 are tens of millions of times larger than the black holes discovered by LIGO and Virgo.

The gravitational waves they emit have a frequency much lower than can be detected by LIGO and Virgo, but they can be detected by careful observations of pulsars.


The publication’s authors believe that the discovery of a pair of black holes in the quasar PKS 2131-021 should be confirmed in the next few years by experiments that use pulsars to search for low-frequency gravitational waves, such as the European Pulsar Timing Array. (EPTA) or the Nanohertz North American Gravitational Wave Observatory (NANOGrav).

– We know of a very small number of confirmed supermassive black holes orbiting each other, and the newly discovered object has the shortest orbital period of them. It’s so much fun and so unique – Dr. Hap sums it up. Szymon Kozłowski of the University of Warsaw Astronomical Observatory is an expert in the field of variability of quasars.

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