What happens when one black hole eats another black hole?

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It's cannibalism...in space! You're looking at an image of two recently discovered, absolutely colossal black holes currently battling it out at the heart of a galaxy named NGC3393. Well, "battling" may not be the right word — because one of them is eating the other.

The two black holes in question are both believed to be of the "supermassive" variety (and yes, that is the official terminology). Supermassive black holes are regions of space time that are millions or even billions of times more massive than the Sun, and are typically observed at the center of large galaxies.

A team of astronomers led by Giuseppina Fabbiano — Senior Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics — estimates that the two black holes at the heart of NGC3393 are around 1 million and 30 million times the mass of the Sun, and believe them to be involved in what is known as a "minor merger," wherein a galaxy of relatively larger mass "eats" a smaller one.


The image pictured up top is a composite of X-rays from NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray observatory (blue) and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (gold). A close-up of the boxed portion of the image, featuring only X-ray data (pictured here), reveals the two distinct black holes.


In the latest issue of Nature, the research team explains that the two black holes in question are not only the closest supermassives we've ever seen (about 160 million light years away), they're also a part of the first minor merger we've ever witnessed. In time, the smaller of the two black holes will become enveloped by its larger counterpart, "collapsing," as it were, into a single entity at the center of newly formed galaxy NGC 3393.

Nature via SPACE.com
Images via Chandra X-Ray Observatory