Scientists have observed what they claim is a pair of supermassive black holes orbiting each other at a distance of 750 million light years away from Earth.
The discovery was made by an international team of scientists who are optimistic about the find for the fact that it will not only allow them and other astronomers to understand black holes better but will also be able to understand gravitational waves and their source in greater detail.
Back in 2016 when an international team of researchers detected the existence of gravitational waves for the first time, they revealed that the gravitational waves were the result two stellar mass black holes of about 30 solar masses colliding in space. Through the latest discovery, scientists will now be able to start to understand what leads up to the merger of supermassive black holes that creates ripples in the fabric of space-time and begin to learn more about the evolution of galaxies and the role these black holes play in it.
Researchers have been studying the interaction between these black holes for 12 years and once enough data was available scientists plotted it and determined that the two black holes are orbiting one another.
Using the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a system made up of 10 radio telescopes across the US, researchers have been able to observe several frequencies of radio signals emitted by these supermassive black holes (SMBH).
Over time, astronomers have essentially been able to plot their trajectory and confirm that these black holes are in orbit with one another. At roughly 750 million light years from Earth, the galaxy named 0402+379 and the supermassive black holes within it, are incredibly far away, but are also at the perfect distance from Earth and each other to be observed.
According to scientists, these supermassive black holes have a combined mass of 15 billion times that of our Sun, or 15 billion solar masses. The unbelievable size of these black holes means their orbital period is around 24,000 years, so while the team has been observing them for over a decade, they have yet to see even the slightest curvature in their orbit.
Continuing to observe the orbit and interaction of these two supermassive black holes could also help us gain a better understanding of what the future of our own galaxy might look like. Right now, the Andromeda galaxy, which also has a SMBH at its centre, is on a path to collide with our Milky Way. The event that the researchers are studying may occur in our galaxy in a few billion years.