Measurements of stars orbiting our galaxy"s core imply our 4-million-solar-mass black hole, Sagittarius A*, might have an additional supermassive companion lurking nearby.

Do supermassive black color holes have friends? The nature of galaxy formation argues that the answer is yes, and also in fact, pairs of supermassive black color holes must be common in the universe.

I am an astrophysicist and also am interested in a wide range of theoretical problems in astrophysics, from the formation of the very first galaxies to the gravitational interaction of black color holes, stars and even planets. Black holes are intriguing systems, and also supermassive black color holes and the dense stellar settings that surround castle represent one of the most too much places in our universe.

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The supermassive black hole the lurks in ~ the facility of our galaxy, dubbed Sgr A*, has a fixed of around 4 million times the of ours Sun. A black hole is a location in space where gravity is so strong that neither particles or light have the right to escape indigenous it. Surrounding Sgr A* is a thick cluster of stars. An accurate measurements that the orbits of these stars allowed astronomers to check the existence of this supermassive black color hole and to measure its mass. For much more than 20 years, scientists have actually been surveillance the orbits of these stars about the supermassive black color hole. Based on what we’ve seen, my colleagues and also I show that if there is a friend there, it might be a 2nd black hole surrounding that is at the very least 100,000 times the fixed of the Sun.


At the facility of our galaxy is a supermassive black hole in the region known together Sagittarius A. It has a massive of around 4 million times the of our Sun.
Supermassive black holes and also their friends

Almost every galaxy, consisting of our Milky Way, has a supermassive black color hole in ~ its heart, through masses the millions to billions of time the massive of the Sun. Astronomers are still examining why the heart of galaxies regularly hosts a supermassive black color hole. One renowned idea connects come the opportunity that supermassive holes have friends.

To recognize this idea, we have to go earlier to when the cosmos was around 100 million year old, to the era the the very an initial galaxies. Castle were lot smaller than today’s galaxies, around 10,000 or more times less massive than the Milky Way. In ~ these early on galaxies the very very first stars that died developed black holes, of around tens to thousands the massive of the Sun. These black color holes sank to the facility of gravity, the heart of their host galaxy. Due to the fact that galaxies evolve through merging and also colliding with one another, collisions in between galaxies will an outcome in supermassive black hole pairs – the crucial part of this story. The black color holes climate collide and grow in dimension as well. A black color hole the is more than a million time the mass of our child is considered supermassive.

If without doubt the supermassive black hole has actually a girlfriend revolving around it in near orbit, the center of the galaxy is locked in a complex dance. The partners’ gravitational tugs will likewise exert its very own pull top top the adjacent stars disturbing your orbits. The two supermassive black color holes space orbiting each other, and also at the exact same time, every is exerting its very own pull top top the stars about it.

The gravitational forces from the black color holes traction on these stars and also make them change their orbit; in various other words, ~ one change around the supermassive black hole pair, a star will not walk exactly earlier to the suggest at which that began.

Using our understanding of the gravitational interaction in between the feasible supermassive black hole pair and also the neighboring stars, astronomers have the right to predict what will take place to stars. Astrophysicists prefer my colleagues and also me have the right to compare ours predictions to observations, and also then have the right to determine the possible orbits the stars and figure the end whether the supermassive black hole has a companion the is exerting gravitational influence.

Using a well-studied star, dubbed S0-2, i beg your pardon orbits the supermassive black hole the lies at the facility of the galaxy every 16 years, we can already rule the end the idea that there is a 2nd supermassive black hole v mass above 100,000 time the massive of the Sun and farther than about 200 times the distance between the Sun and also the Earth. If there was such a companion, then I and also my colleagues would have detected its impacts on the orbit the SO-2.

But that doesn’t median that a smaller companion black hole can not still hide there. Such things may not transform the orbit that SO-2 in a means we can easily measure.

The physics of supermassive black color holes

Supermassive black color holes have gained a lot of attention lately. In particular, the recent picture of such a large at the center of the galaxy M87 opened up a brand-new window to knowledge the physics behind black color holes.


The very first image of a black hole. This is the supermassive black color hole in ~ the center of the galaxy M87.

The proximity of the Milky Way’s galactic facility – a mere 24,000 light-years far – gives a distinctive laboratory for addressing worries in the fundamental physics of supermassive black color holes. Because that example, astrophysicists favor myself would prefer to know their affect on the central regions that galaxies and also their role in galaxy formation and also evolution. The detection of a pair the supermassive black color holes in the galactic center would suggest that the Milky way merged through another, perhaps small, galaxy at some time in the past.

That’s no all that security the surrounding stars have the right to tell us. Dimensions of the star S0-2 enabled scientists to lug out a unique test that Einstein’s basic theory that relativity. In might 2018, S0-2 zoomed past the supermassive black color hole in ~ a street of only around 130 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun. Follow to Einstein’s theory, the wavelength of light emitted by the star should stretch as it climbs from the deep gravitational fine of the supermassive black color hole.

The extending wavelength that Einstein predicted – which provides the star appear redder – was detected and also proves that the concept of general relativity accurately defines the physics in this too much gravitational zone. Ns am eagerly awaiting the second closest technique of S0-2, which will happen in about 16 years, since astrophysicists like myself will have the ability to test an ext of Einstein’s predictions about general relativity, consisting of the change of the orientation that the stars’ elongated orbit. But if the supermassive black color hole has actually a partner, this could alter the expected result.


This NASA/ESA Hubble an are Telescope image show’s the result of a galactic collision between two good-sized galaxies. This new jumble that stars is slowly evolving to become a gigantic elliptical galaxy.

Finally, if there space two massive black feet orbiting each various other at the galactic center, together my team suggests is possible, they will emit gravitational waves. Because 2015, the LIGO-Virgo observatories have been detecting gravitational wave radiation from merging stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars. These groundbreaking detections have actually opened a new means for scientists to sense the universe.

Any tide emitted through our hypothetical black feet pair will certainly be at low frequencies, also low for the LIGO-Virgo detectors come sense. Yet a plan space-based detector well-known as LISA may have the ability to detect these waves which will help astrophysicists figure out even if it is our galactic facility black feet is alone or has a partner.

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