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Two Supermassive Black Holes on a Collision Course in Nearby Galaxy

May 25, 2017 08:17 AM EDT

Two supermassive black holes could be set for a monster collision at the heart of the galaxy Cygnus A.

According to a report from, astronomers used the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) to spot a blindingly bright object just about 1,500 light-years away from a known supermassive black hole in Cygnus A. The galaxy is frequently studied by scientists because of its proximity from Earth just around 800 million light-years away.

The astronomers observed the qualities of this heavenly object, surmising that it is either a supernova explosion or a burst from a second supermassive black hole in the galaxy. Upon further observation, they concluded that the mysterious object has been too bright for a prolonged period of time, unlike any known type of supernova.

"We think we've found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past," study co-author Chris Carilli, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in New Mexico, explained in an official statement. "These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future."

The unknown object shares many characteristics with a supermassive black hole that is gobbling up surrounding material. In fact, the scientists have suggested that the reason why this supposed second black hole suddenly became visible was becase it found a new material -- possibly gas or even a star -- to feed on.

"Further observations will help us resolve some of these questions," said study lead author Daniel Perley of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in England. "In addition, if this is a secondary black hole, we may be able to find others in similar galaxies."

The new study will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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