Why Two Black Holes Just Photobombed The Andromeda Galaxy

By Carl Velasco | Dec 02, 2017 10:18 AM EST

A photo of the Andromeda Galaxy just offered some startling discoveries.

With the help of imagery from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in addition to ground-based optical telescopes, astronomers were able to notice a supermassive black hole pairing, which was initially thought to be inside Andromeda itself.

As it turns out, it's 1,000 times farther away, or about 2.6 billion light-years from Earth, according to the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Called the J0045+41, scientists have, for a long time, believed it was merely a pair of stars inside Andromeda.

Andromeda Photo Reveals Supermassive Photobombing Black Holes

Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein, the lead researcher and a graduate University of Washington, said he and his team were trying to look for a special star in Andromeda. They thought they had found one. The said cosmic object was classified as a star pairing, which orbited each other once every 76 days. However, conflicting data showed its X-ray signal was far too intense to fit such a classification.

Ultimately, additional data from Hawaii's Gemini-North telescope suggested J0045+41 had to have at least one supermassive black hole. Shortly thereafter, astronomers were able to calculate its distance relative to Earth. It was eventually classified as a pair of supermassive black holes locked in a tight binary orbit.

J0045+41 Black Hole Pairing

The estimated total mass for the two black holes is about two hundred million times that of the Sun. Just for comparison, Sagittarius A*, another black hole located in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, has a mass that's only four million times greater than the Sun.

Also, the two black holes are very close: the distance between them is merely a few hundred times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

While they remain largely an enigma, it's believed the supermassive black holes are held together by mutual gravitational attraction, a phenomenon in which massive objects are drawn closer together.

Also, the mystery is the black holes' individual masses, but they're expected to collide and merge into a single black hole in either 350 years or as long as 360,000 years.

The research titled "A Mote in Andromeda's Disk: A Misidentified Periodic AGN Behind M31" is available on The Astrophysical Journal

Now, if only someone out there launched a petition to name it as the "Photobombing Black Holes." 

Thoughts on J0045+41? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!

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