POSTED: 09:54 p.m. HST, Jan 19, 2011
A scientist from the University of Hawaii has helped discover 16 pairs of supermassive black holes in merging galaxies.
The black-hole pairs, also called binaries, are about 100 to 1,000 times closer together than previously observed, offering an intriguing glimpse at part of the mechanics of colliding galaxies.
The discovery, based on observations from the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, was described Jan. 12 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.
The Keck researchers included Alan Stockton from UH-Manoa and others from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Our results add to the growing understanding of how galaxies and their central black holes evolve," said Lin Yan, a staff scientist at CalTech and one of the authors of the study.
Scientists believe most if not all galaxies, including the Milky Way, have a massive black hole at their center.
When galaxies collide and merge, it is believed their central black holes combine as well, creating an even more massive object from which no light can escape.
When material such as interstellar gas falls into the black hole, it can create enough energy to outshine the galaxy itself, scientists said,
Key to the findings were adaptive optics on the Keck that removes the blurring effect of the atmosphere.