One of the best things about this universe is that it contains so much. If you search hard enough, you can most likely find any combination of astronomical events. Not so long ago we reported on research that found 7 different cases of three colliding galaxies. Now, a team led by Jonathan Williams of the University of Maryland has found another merging triple galaxy cluster, but this one could potentially have two active supermassive black holes that allow astronomers to peer into the system dynamics of two of the most extreme objects in the universe .
To find this unique system, Mr. Williams examined data from a variety of sources including the Very Large Array, the European Southern Observatory, the WM Keck Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array. When he searched through all of this data, he found the system in an extremely bright spot in the sky about 800 million light-years away.
UT video of black holes orbiting each other.
The three galaxies differ in many ways. One galaxy is known as the Seyfert-type – large swirling disks known to have supermassive black holes at their centers. Another of the galaxies is known as the “low ionization nuclear emission line region” or LINER galaxy, which some scientists speculate to also contain supermassive black holes at its center, but this has yet to be undeniably proven.
In order not to be outdone by its larger neighbors, the third galaxy – a dwarf galaxy with no active supermassive black hole – leaves a trail of dust and appears to be moving perpendicular to Earth. This combination of factors enables data on the physical characteristics of the concentration that would otherwise not be detectable.
UT video of black hole merging.
Despite this wealth of data, there are still some confusing results – both the Seyfert and LINER galaxies are not behaving exclusively according to the expectations of these two types of galaxies. To get a better understanding of what the galaxies actually are and the physics surrounding the merging process itself, even more data is needed. Therefore, Mr. Williams plans to use Hubble to collect additional data to shed more light on this already exceptionally bright and exceptionally interesting region of the sky.
UMD – Triple Galaxy Merger sends mixed signals
AAS – 2MASS 1631: A merging galaxy triple that houses a potential dual AGN
UT – What happens to their supermassive black holes when galaxies collide?
Image of the three merging galaxies with possibly two active black holes.
Photo credit: VLT / MSU RVB – composite image