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Astronomers Discover Pair of Black Holes In Inactive Galaxy 45

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the ate-all-the-other-stars dept.
William Robinson (875390) writes "The Astronomers at XMM-Newton have detected a pair of supermassive black holes at the center of an inactive galaxy. Most massive galaxies in the Universe are thought to harbor at least one supermassive black hole at their center. And a pair of black holes is indication of strong possibility that the galaxies have merged. Finding black holes in quiescent galaxies is difficult because there are no gas clouds feeding the black holes, so the cores of these galaxies are truly dark. It can be only detected by this 'tidal disruption event'."
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Astronomers Discover Pair of Black Holes In Inactive Galaxy

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  • by jfengel (409917) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @02:22PM (#46834585) Homepage Journal

    The discovery of pulsars rotating around each other by Hulse and Taylor was a major confirmation of general relativity because of the way they were radiating energy in gravitational waves. Is there any way to use black holes to confirm this even more? Would it be something we could help "point" a gravitational wave detector at?

    (Sorry, IANAP, so I apologize if this is a stupid question.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Unfortunately the black holes are separated by a distance about a billion times their size, which makes energy loss by gravitational waves rather small, and would be difficult to see a change in their orbital period. Also, their separation is by a couple thousand light years, so it would take a long observation to see much change in their orbital position, and the frequency of the emitted gravitational waves would be very, very, very low. If there were a test here, it would probably be very subtle. The p
      • by rotorbudd (1242864) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @04:20PM (#46835583)

        . Also, their separation is by a couple thousand light years,

        TFA reads:
        "The separation between the black holes is quite small: 0.6 milliparsecs, or about 2 thousandths of a light year. That's about the width of our Solar System."
        So gravitation waves might be seen AT that distance

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Good catch, as I had misread another source when I made that post, and thought it said 2 thousand light years. Still two thousandths light years means their orbital period is on the order of a year. That would still be a way too slow for gravitational detectors as we have now and in the near future (especially for any on Earth that might filter out things around that period).

          Observing a change in the orbit might be possible on human timescales at least, but would depend on how accurately they can locate

  • As we understand galaxy formation better, galaxy mergers are an increasingly important topic. It's cool to have direct evidence of this type; probably this will spur more merger simulations designed to track the black holes.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @02:42PM (#46834727) Homepage

      As we understand galaxy formation better, galaxy mergers are an increasingly important topic.

      Unfortunately, as always happens in such things, after the merger many stars will lose their jobs as the galaxies try to cut costs. They may also decide to outsource some of the jobs of the current stars to neighboring galaxies, and some existing customers might get screwed over as they decide to get rid of product lines the larger galaxy isn't interested in.

      Mostly these things benefit the big giant holes running things.

  • So how do they know it's inactive? Are all the lights out?
  • I wonder if there were any civilizations in these galaxies which merged, which were sucked into the black holes.

    • Chilling thought really, late developing civilisations struggling to develop an interstellar, even intergalactic presence, pitting their collective intelligences against the growing cold and dark and the slipknot of gravity. I wonder would we ever be able to excavate black holes to find their last transmissions.

      • by towermac (752159)

        And even if their collective intelligence won out, it may still take them 10,000 years or so to actually fly out of it.

        From our perspective...

  • by xiox (66483) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @03:58PM (#46835385) Homepage

    "Scientists at XMM-Newton" - who writes this rubbish? XMM is a European space X-ray observatory in elliptical orbit around the earth. Nobody is "at" XMM.

  • by g01d4 (888748)

    Finding black holes in quiescent galaxies is difficult because there are no gas clouds feeding the black holes, so the cores of these galaxies are truly dark. It can be only detected by this 'tidal disruption event'."

    The dark cores have been observed in light curves http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.5310 [arxiv.org]

  • If a pair of black holes are present in a quiet galaxy, perhaps there are also black holes present where there aren't any galaxies at all...'between' galaxies. Maybe black holes were the driver for all galaxy and star formation and maybe there are more black holes than there are galaxies. Maybe way way more. Maybe such black holes are the missing dark matter that we are searching for.

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