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Astronomers detect three supermassive black holes at the center of three colliding galaxies

Astronomers detect three supermassive black holes at the center of three colliding galaxies

Three supermassive black holes (SMBHs) glowing in x-ray emissions have been identified by astronomers at the center of three colliding galaxies a billion light-years away from Earth. All three black holes are active galactic nuclei(AGN), consuming material. This finding may clarify a long-standing issue in astrophysics and black hole mergers known as “final parsec problem”. The study appears in The Astrophysical Journal.

Researchers detected the three SMBHs with the data from several telescopes, Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS,) the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)A nearly unbelievably astronomical event, the fusion of three galaxies may play a crucial role in how the most massive black holes expand over time.

Ryan Pfeifle from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the paper’s first author said that they found this incredible system through their selection technique while they were only looking for black hole pairs. He also added that this is the most powerful evidence found for such a triple system of active supermassive black holes. It is very challenging to locate triple black hole systems since they are wrapped in gas and dust. It took several telescopes functioning in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and also the work with researchers to detect these black holes.

Co-author Shobita Satyapal, also belonging to George Mason said that dual and triple black holes are extremely rare but such systems are actually a natural outcome of galaxy mergers, through which galaxies grow. This triple-merger was first spotted in visible light by the SDSS and only through a citizen science project named Galaxy Zoo the system of colliding galaxies was detected. The system was in a state of galaxy merger glowing in the infrared as seen by the WISE when more than one black holes were expected to be feeding.

Researchers shifted to the Chandra Observatory and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) for confirmation as Sloan and WISE data were fascinating clues. Chandra observations revealed bright x-ray sources in the galactic centers where SMBHs are expected to detect. Chandra and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite of NASA discovered more shreds of evidence showing the presence of SMBHs and the existence of large amounts of gas and dust near one of them. It was expected in merging of black holes. Spectral evidence received by optical light data from SDSS and  LBT shows that these are characteristics of the feeding SMBHs.

Christina Manzano-King, co-author from the University of California, Riverside said that optical spectra include plenty of information about a galaxy which is frequently used to detect active accreting supermassive black holes and can tell about their influence on the inhabitant galaxies. Pfeifle said that they have found a new method of identifying triple supermassive black holes using these major observatories as each telescope gives them a distinct idea about these systems. They expect to extend their work to find more triples using the same method.

The final parsec problem is a theoretical problem that is fundamental to our understanding of binary black hole mergers that states that the enormous orbital energy of two approaching black holes stops them from merging. They can get separated by a few light-years, then the merging process stables.

The hyperbolic trajectories of two initially approaching black hole carry them right past each other. The two holes catapult the stars as they interact with them in their proximity transferring a fraction of their orbital energy to a star every time. The energy of the black holes gets reduced by the emission of gravitational waves. The two black holes finally slow down and approach each other more closely shedding enough orbital energy finally getting within just a few parsecs of each other. More matter is discharged via sling-shotting as they come closer. As a result, for the black holes, no more matter is left to interact with and shed more orbital energy. The merging process halts.

Astronomers know that strong gravitational waves are responsible for black hole mergers.LIGO (Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory) discovers a black hole merger almost every week. The final parsec problem is about how they merge with each other finally. Researchers think that a third black hole like seen in this system could give the push needed for the black holes to get merged. Nearly 16% of supermassive black hole pairs in colliding galaxies are expected to interact with a third supermassive black hole before they merge.

The challenge is that gravitational waves produced during merging would be too low-frequency for LIGO or the VIRGO observatory to detect. Researchers may have to depend on future observatories like LISA, ESA/NASA’s Laser Interferometer Space Antenna to detect those waves. LISA is better-equipped than LIGO or VIRGO to detect merging of giant and massive black holes as it can detect lower frequency gravitational waves.

Reference: The Astrophysical Journal.

Massive Galaxy Formation

Researchers create Universe Machine to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies

The science behind the formation of galaxies and their evolution has remained a puzzle for decades, but the answer might be found soon with the help of simulations carried using supercomputers by a group of scientists from the University of Arizona.

Observation of galaxies can only provide their snapshots over time however understanding their evolution requires computer simulations. Astronomers have used this technique for testing different theories of the formation of galaxies. Peter Behroozi, an assistant professor at the UA Steward Observatory generated millions of universes on a supercomputer, each having different physical theories on the formation of galaxies. The paper has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It challenges the conventional ideas on the role of dark matter in galaxy formation and the evolution of galaxies.

Universes are created on the supercomputer and then compared to real ones which help in identifying the rules. This research managed to create self-consistent universes for the first time which are replicas of the real one and simulations which contain 12 million galaxies spanning over 400 million years.

The universes were put through several tests to understand how galaxies appeared in the simulated universe compared to the real one. The universe resembling ours had similar physical rules.

The results from “UniverseMachine” have helped to resolve as to why galaxies stop making new stars even when plenty of hydrogen gas and other raw materials are present.

The classical theories suggest the presence of supermassive black holes in the galactic centres prevent gases to cool down to form stars. Similarly, dark matter heats up the surrounding gas and prevents forming stars. However, it was found that many galaxies in the universe were more likely to form stars at higher rates which is a contradiction. The team then created virtual galaxies in which the opposite happened. The universe based on current theories which stopped star formation early on appear much redder they actually are. The galaxy appears red due to its age and moving away faster, which shifts the light into the red spectrum called “redshift”. Also if a galaxy stops forming stars, there will be lesser blue stars and old red stars will be left.

If galaxies stopped creating stars, the colour of the universe would have been entirely different, hence it can be concluded that galaxies formed stars more efficiently in the earlier than we expected and the energy from the black holes and exploding stars is less efficient in decreasing the formation of stars.

A mock universe requires huge complexity which requires an entirely new approach not limited by computing power or memory and provided enough resolution to observe both supernovae as well as a major portion of the universe. Simulating a galaxy needs 10 to the 48th computing operations. The team used the “Ocelote” supercomputer at the UA High-Performance Computing cluster. 2000 processors churned the data for three weeks and over the course of the project, the team generated 8 million universes. The team took past 20 years of observations and compared them to the millions of mock universes generated and checked for matches. They plan to expand the UniverseMachine to include the morphology of galaxies and how their shapes evolve over time.

Journal Reference: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

abell 85

Researchers detect a gigantic black hole weighing 40 billion times more than Sun

Black holes can be very big, but there is a separate class which is huge and monstrous. Astronomers have identified such a giant black hole whose mass is 40 billion times that of the Sun. It is present at a galaxy’s centre that is known as Holmberg 15A. It is a supergiant elliptical galaxy present at a distance of 700 million light-years away from us that sits at the centre of the galaxy cluster, Abell 85.

 This new black hole is one of the largest black holes that have been identified and is the largest among the ones detected by tracking the motion of the stars around it. Past calculations based on the galaxy’s dynamics and its cluster found the mass of Holm 15A*(the black hole) which estimates it to be 310 billion times that of the Sun’s mass. These were indirect measurements of the black hole. The first direct measurement is obtained in this research and the paper has been submitted for peer review to The Astrophysical Journal.

Researchers mentioned in the paper that they used orbit-based, axisymmetric Schwarzschild models for analysing the stellar kinematics of Holm 15A from better resolution, spectral observations obtained with the help of MUSE at VLT. They found a supermassive black hole of mass (4.0 ± 0.80) × 1010 solar masses at Holm 15A’s center. This is the most massive black which has been detected directly in the local Universe.

The black hole with the greatest mass which has been detected so far is quasar TON 618, which weighs nearly 66 billion times the Sun’s mass according to indirect measurements. Event horizon of Holm 15A* which is also called as Schwarzschild radius would be enough to engulf the orbits of all the planets in Solar System and still have space left for some more. Pluto is 39.5 astronomical units from Sun. Heliopause is estimated to be nearly 123 AU. According to the mass of Holm 15A*, the Schwarzschild radius would be 790 AU.

The supermassive black hole of Holm 15A is almost four to nine times bigger than estimated according to stellar velocity and bulge stellar mass of the galaxy. It fits the collision model between two early-type galaxies that have depleted cores. It occurs when there are not many stars present in the core according to the number of stars which are there in the galaxy’s outer regions.

Researchers mentioned that the masses of black holes in cored galaxies such as Holm 15A vary inversely to the mass density and the central stellar surface brightness. They intend to keep studying about the black hole and conduct complex, detailed modelling thereby compare the results with the observations. This can help to understand how often such a merger occurs and how many such black holes remain yet to be discovered.

Journal Reference: arXiv