A trio of monster black holes have been spotted crashing into each other.
The galactic fracas is taking place 300 million light-years from Earth and will lead to the birth of a single, mega black hole.
Scientists in Germany discovered the rare event within NGC 6240, a well-studied nearby galaxy.
The black holes are close to each other at the core of the system and shed light on how massive galaxies are born.
“Up until now, such a concentration of three supermassive black holes had never been discovered in the universe,” said Dr. Peter Weilbacher, of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam.
“The present case provides evidence of a simultaneous merging process of three galaxies along with their central black holes.”
Astronomers used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to make their discovery.
The NGC 6240 galaxy is relatively close to our own Milky Way in space terms and has an odd shape.
Galaxies are often made up of hundreds of billions of stars locked in an orbital dance with a supermassive black hole at the core.
It had long been assumed NGC 6240 formed when two smaller galaxies collided, leaving it with a pair of black holes – hence the odd shape.
However, the new observations revealed the galaxy, in fact, had three black holes crammed into its violent core.
“Through our observations with extremely high spatial resolution we were able to show that NGC 6240 hosts not two but three supermassive black holes in its center,” said Professor Wolfram Kollatschny, an astronomer at the University of Göttingen.
“Each of the three heavyweights has a mass of more than 90 million suns.
“They are located in a region of space less than 3,000 light-years across, i.e. in less than one-hundredth of the total size of the galaxy.”
According to the team, the discovery opens new doors for our understanding of the universe.
Up until now, scientists had not been able to explain how the biggest galaxies in the universe evolved through the space processes we know and understand.
This puzzle could be solved if it’s proved that three or more supermassive black holes can merge into a single entity.
“If simultaneous merging processes of several galaxies took place, then the largest galaxies with their central supermassive black holes were able to evolve much faster,” Dr Weilbacher added.
“Our observations provide the first indication of this scenario.”
The study was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Author: The Sun