Astronomers May Have Spotted a Double Black Hole


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Astronomers this week revealed that a double black hole system may have been found. An object known as WISE J233237.05-505643.5 was spotted at the center of a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years from our solar system. The jet shooting up out of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy appears to be wavy, rather than straight. This suggests that another supermassive black hole may be close by, affecting the material shooting from the other's jet.

The rare sighting was take from data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and followed up on using the Australian Telescope Compact Array. The WISE observatory has recently been reactivated to search for asteroids that are potentially hazardous to Earth.

"At first we thought this galaxy's unusual properties seen by WISE might mean it was forming new stars at a furious rate," said Peter Eisenhardt, a co-author of a paper on the object published recently in the Astrophysical Journal and a WISE project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "But on closer inspection, it looks more like the death spiral of merging giant black holes."

According to NASA, only a handful of so-called black hole binary candidates have been found over the years. This new finding is yet another of those candidates, though astronomers are being cautious in confirming the hypothesis. Several factors have pointed to the double black hole explanation including jet and the strange clumping of dust and gas in the accretion disc surrounding the object.

"We think the jet of one black hole is being wiggled by the other, like a dance with ribbons," said Chao-Wei Tsai, lead author of the paper. "If so, it is likely the two black holes are fairly close and gravitationally entwined."

(Image courtesy NASA)