A Groundbreaking Discovery Just Verified the Existence of Orbiting Supermassive Black Holes

This could radically impact our understanding of the universe.

6. 27. 17 by Patrick Caughill
Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library/Getty

Supermassive Orbit

Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) have made an incredible discovery that could help us better understand not just black holes, but also the universe.

For the first time ever, astronomers have observed and measured two supermassive black holes orbiting one another. The black holes are hundreds of millions of light-years from us, but that just happens to be the perfect distance from the Earth for optimal observation.

Artist’s concept of two supermassive black holes, similar to those observed by UNM researchers, orbiting one another. Image Credit: Joshua Valenzuela/UNM

The observation process was an undertaking 12 years in the making. “For a long time, we’ve been looking into space to try and find a pair of these supermassive black holes orbiting as a result of two galaxies merging,” professor Greg Taylor explained in a UNM news release. “Even though we’ve theorized that this should be happening, nobody had ever seen it until now.”

The team used the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to plot the black holes’ trajectories and confirm that they are indeed in orbit with one another. However, the size of the black holes makes their orbital period around 24,000 years, so even after viewing the binary system for over a decade, the scientists have yet to witness any curvature in their orbit.

Advertisement

Learning Opportunity

These orbiting black holes could teach us a great deal about our universe. “Supermassive black holes have a lot of influence on the stars around them and the growth and evolution of the galaxy,” Taylor explained. “So, understanding more about them and what happens when they merge with one another could be important for our understanding for the universe.”

Click to View Full Infographic

Bob Zavala, an astronomer with the U.S. Naval Observatory, likens the potential of this discovery to what astronomers were able to learn about stars from studying their binary orbits. “Now we’ll be able to use similar techniques to understand super-massive black holes and the galaxies they reside within,” he told UNM.

The UNM team plans to observe the black holes again in three or four years to confirm their findings and get a more precise reading of the orbit. This discovery will undoubtedly provide a wealth of new knowledge for many years to come.


As a Futurism reader, we invite you join the Singularity Global Community, our parent company’s forum to discuss futuristic science & technology with like-minded people from all over the world. It’s free to join, sign up now!

Advertisement

Share This Article

Keep up.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter to keep in touch with the subjects shaping our future.
I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its User Agreement and Privacy Policy

Advertisement

Copyright ©, Singularity Education Group All Rights Reserved. See our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Futurism. Fonts by Typekit and Monotype.