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Two Supermassive Black Holes Discovered By Astronomers; Formed By Violent Galaxy Mergers?

Aug 28, 2015 12:40 PM EDT

Astrophysicists recently discovered two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the quasar closest to Earth. This discovery provides evidence of a binary black hole, which suggests that supermassive black holes form from violent mergers, according to a news release.

"We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission," Youjun Lu, National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.

Lu worked alongside Professor Xinyu Dai, professor from the L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, at University of Oklahoma's College of Arts and Sciences. Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observations, the two looked at ultraviolet radiation emitted from the center of the Mrk 231, which is an active galaxy with an illuminated center – and short lived compared to the age of the universe. They then applied a model to the spectrum of the galaxy in order to predict the existence of the binary black holes in Mrk 231.Their findings were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal.

"The structure of our universe – such as those giant galaxies and clusters of galaxies – grows by merging smaller systems into larger ones, and binary black holes are natural consequences of these mergers of galaxies," Dai explained.

These two black holes in Mrk 231 will eventually collide and merge to form a quasar with a supermassive black hole over time.

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