A cropped view of the Galaxy NGC 7727. Credit: ESO.

Galactic Fusion 76 Million Light-Years Away Will See Two Massive Black Holes Collide

At the center of NGC 7727 lie the closest pair of supermassive black holes ever discovered, which will coalesce to form a new black hole of even greater mass. Within 250 million years, the black holes in NGC 7727 are expected to merge as they are only 1600 light-years apart.

Located in the constellation Aquarius, NGC 7727 is a peculiar galaxy. This odd-looking galaxy is home to two galactic nuclei, and each harbors a supermassive black hole, separated 1,600 light years apart.

Several plumes and streams of irregular shape are on this object, which is classified as a galaxy with amorphous spiral arms at a distance of 23.3 megaparsecs (76 million light-years) from the Milky Way.

Using the VLT, the ESO has obtained an image of the galaxy NGC 7727, which was created by a stellar collision that occurred a billion years ago.

In its center lie the closest pair of supermassive black holes ever discovered, which will coalesce to form a new black hole of even greater mass.

During the dance between galaxies, gravity creates tidal forces that dramatically change the shape of each partner. A galaxy formed by merging two galaxies causes the ‘tails’ of stars, gas, and dust to spin around each other, resulting in NGC 7727’s beautifully asymmetrical shape.

As seen in this image of the galaxy, the effects of this cosmic bump are spectacular. It was taken by the VLT FOCAL Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2). In spite of the fact that an ESO telescope has previously captured this galaxy, the new image offers a more detailed view of its main body as well as its faint tails.

Around a billion years ago, two galaxies merged to form NGC 7727. NGC 7727's wispy shape is the result of a cosmic dance between two galaxies. Credit: ESO.
Around a billion years ago, two galaxies merged to form NGC 7727. NGC 7727’s wispy shape is the result of a cosmic dance between two galaxies. Credit: ESO.

This picture from the ESO VLT shows the tangled trails left behind when the two galaxies merged, forming the spectacular long arms that embrace NGC 7727. In this image, stars appear as bright blue-purple spots scattered along these arms.

An additional sign of the galaxy’s dramatic past can also be seen in this image, two bright points at the center. NGC 7727 still contains its original two galactic cores, each housing a supermassive black hole. In addition, there is a pair of supermassive black holes just 89 million light-years away from us, located in the constellation of Aquarius, making these the closest couple of supermassive black holes to Earth.

Within 250 million years, the black holes in NGC 7727 are expected to merge as they are only 1600 light-years apart. A massive black hole will form when the two black holes merge.

ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is set to operate later this decade, will make a great leap forward in the search for similar hidden supermassive black hole pairs. Moreover, it is likely that we will make many more such discoveries at the centers of galaxies with the help of the ELT.

A collision between the Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is expected in approximately 5 billion years. It is possible that the resulting galaxy will resemble NGC 7727, so this image could provide a glimpse into the future.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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