A strophysicists at the University of New Mexico (UNM) have made a groundbreaking discovery, successfully tracking and measuring the motion of two supermassive black holes with a Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope facility. The findings, for which the researchers have been preparing for 12 years, show that black holes orbit each other in a binary system.
The black hole binary system developed as a result of two galaxies merging, a phenomenon that has been theorised to exist but has not been observed until now, said Professor Greg Taylor of UNM’s Department of Physics & Astronomy.
This is not the first time humans have observed and measured colliding black holes. Back in 2016, an international team of researchers directly measured the gravitational waves that emanated and propagated from a pair of merging black holes, thus confirming Albert Einstein’s hypothesis made more than 100 years ago.
Professor Taylor called the latest observation a “true technical achievement” due to the gigantic size of the black holes. They have a combined mass of 15 billion times that of our sun, and thus have an orbital period that is longer than 20,000 years. This means even though the observation has been conducted for more than 20 years, the angular movement that can be resolved was minimal.
Roger Romani, professor of physics at Stanford University, compared it to “a snail on the recently-discovered Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri - 4.243 light years away - moving at 1 centimetre a second.”