When black holes collide: NASA releases 'amazing' images of galaxies merging
The image, taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, shows the merging galaxy NGC 6240. (NASA, ESA, and M. Koss, Eureka Scientific, Inc.)
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Thursday, November 8, 2018 12:19PM EST
It only took a billion years or so, but the black holes of two merging galaxies are finally colliding together in a colourful spectacle photographed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
“Deep inside the dusty, messy cores of merging galaxies are pairs of black holes feasting on material and moving closer to coalescence,” a tweet on the Hubble Telescope twitter account read.
According to NASA, a “galaxy merger” is a slow process that can take more than a billion years to complete.
“Two galaxies, under the inexorable pull of gravity, dance toward each other before finally joining together,” the space agency said in a release. “Simulations reveal that galaxies kick up plenty of gas and dust as they undergo this slow-motion train wreck.”
The Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii captured the incredible high-resolution images over a 20-year period.
In the photos, the galaxies’ bright yellow cores can be seen crashing into each other as they’re encased by a cloud of dust and gas in what the researchers call the “final stage” of their union.
“Seeing the pairs of merging galaxy nuclei associated with these huge black holes so close together was pretty amazing," Michael Koss, one of the researchers from Eureka Scientific Inc. who studied the images, said in a release.
The astronomers said black holes grow the most quickly during the final stages of a galaxy merger, which they witnessed in this case.
“The fact that black holes grow faster and faster as mergers progress tells us galaxy encounters are really important for our understanding of how these objects got to be so monstrously big,” researcher Laura Blecha from the University of Florida said.
The images may also provide some insight into another galactic collision that will occur in our own “cosmic backyard” in several billion years when the Milky Way merges with neighbouring Andromeda galaxy, the NASA release said.
We’re just beginning to imagine the titanic forces involved when two galactic cores and their supermassive black holes merge like in this simulation. Click to see @NASAHubble reveal actual images of the process - within 10 million years of merger: https://t.co/x9Ig2bhXED pic.twitter.com/JSob7MefOS— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) November 8, 2018
Deep inside the dusty, messy cores of merging galaxies are pairs of black holes feasting on material and moving closer to coalescence. Near-infrared images by the Hubble and Keck telescopes are giving astronomers their best glimpse yet of this process: https://t.co/SZFqFt43GK pic.twitter.com/iwgnS9PU5n— HubbleTelescope (@HubbleTelescope) November 7, 2018
A galaxy merger is a billion-plus-year process as two galaxies dance toward each other before finally joining together. Simulations reveal that galaxies kick up plenty of gas and dust as they undergo this slow-motion train wreck. Via @NASAHubble https://t.co/9tAqcpGxDL pic.twitter.com/Dlngw80KAv— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) November 7, 2018
#Hubble and #Keck observatories uncover #blackholes coalescing. These images reveal the final stage of a union between pairs of galactic nuclei in the messy cores of colliding galaxies. https://t.co/KX9U23Rp9g pic.twitter.com/BPCMFCaJEV— HUBBLE (@HUBBLE_space) November 8, 2018