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The Turbulent Life of Two Supermassive Black Holes Caught in a Galaxy Crash

8 Jan 2020, 21:55 UTC
The Turbulent Life of Two Supermassive Black Holes Caught in a Galaxy Crash
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An international team of astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to create the most detailed image yet of the gas surrounding two supermassive black holes in a merging galaxy.400 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation of Ophiuchus, two galaxies are crashing into each other and forming a galaxy we know as NGC 6240. This peculiarly-shaped galaxy has been observed many times before, as it is relatively close by. But NGC 6240 is complex and chaotic. The collision between the two galaxies is still ongoing, bringing along in the crash two growing supermassive black holes that will likely merge as one larger black hole.To understand what is happening within NGC 6240, astronomers want to observe the dust and gas surrounding the black holes in detail, but previous images have not been sharp enough to do that. New ALMA observations have increased the resolution of the images by a factor of ten - showing for the first time the structure of the cold gas in the galaxy, even within the sphere of influence of the black holes."The key to understanding this galaxy system is molecular gas," explained Ezequiel Treister of the Pontificia Universidad Católica in Santiago, Chile. "This ...

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