Astronomers find supermassive black hole in Earth’s nearest quasar

University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth.

The discovery relied on observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and provide evidence of a binary black hole that suggests supermassive black holes assemble their masses through violent mergers.

“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,” said Youjun Lu, National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Lu collaborated on the project with Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.

“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,” said Dai.

So over time, the two black holes discovered by Dai and Lu in Mrk 231 will collide and merge to form a quasar with a supermassive black hole. A quasar is an active galaxy with an illuminated centre, which is short lived compared to the age of the Universe.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

Read science facts, not fiction...

There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.