Think of them as the universe’s version of dueling pianos.
This past week, scientists discovered a pair of black holes located in the quasar (core) of Markarian 231, Earth’s next-door-neighbor galaxy. They knew something was up when photos from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed a “mysterious hole” in the in the center of the quasar’s ring of gas, according to a story by Popular Science.
What they discovered was a pair of black holes — one big, one little — rotating around each other, a very uncommon find. Quasars typically have one black hole.
The dual black-hole dance taking place inside Markarian 231’s quasar is known as a “binary black hole.”
Markarian 231’s bigger black hole is “150 million times more massive than our sun,” while the smaller of the two has about 4 million times the mass of our sun.
The scientists who made the discovery are an international team from the United States and China.
Team members said they were “excited” about the discovery and that they can now “systematically search binary black holes” using the methods they employed to discover the Markarian 231 binary.
We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission.
Discovery News said that the binary black holes are the result of two galaxies joining together at some point in the past. When the galaxies came together, the two black holes merged in the same quasar space.
The binary black holes spin around each other as they carve away at the inside of the quasar. The pair of black holes takes about 1.2 years to orbit each other.
Experts say their rotation is drawing them closer together. In several hundred thousand years, they will spiral into each other.