Astronomers find several pairs of galaxies merging together into single, larger galaxies

These images reveal the final stage of a union between pairs of galactic nuclei in the messy cores of colliding galaxies. Credit NASA ESA and M. Koss

Galaxies merging may help fuel the growth of these supermassive black holes, as the cores merge and grow in size. Astronomers have observed several pairs of galaxies in the final stages of merging after colliding. Every galaxy has a centre which comprises supermassive black holes with masses that are millions to billions of times that of the sun.

Around 17 percent showed signs of a galactic merger at their centre, confirming the computer simulations about heavily obscured black holes in galaxies with plenty of gas and dust being responsible for many mergers. The phenomenon lets these holes rip apart stars and devour matter, in turn releasing tremendous amount of light.

A team led by research scientist Michael Koss surveyed hundreds of nearby galaxies using existing imagery and published their findings in the journal Nature.

Black holes are areas of space-time which are so dense that nothing - whether matter or energy - can escape them.

They obtained the images by looking for visually obscured, active black holes, and going back through 10 years' worth of X-ray data from the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT). Now, NASA observed a black holes collision caused by the fusion of two galaxies followed throughout the past two decades by Hubble Space Telescope and W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Looking at the data available, they were able to identify the impending galaxy merger.

The research team looked through the thick walls of gas and dust in the messy cores of the merging galaxies.

"Seeing the pairs of merging galaxy nuclei associated with these huge black holes so close together was pretty wonderful", said Mr Koss said.

Astronomers also said that these black holes grow the quickest during the final stages of a galaxy merger which was also the case with these two galaxies that we've told you about.

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'You can't argue with it; it's a very "clean" result, which doesn't rely on interpretation'.

"The advantage to using Swift's BAT is that it observes high-energy, "hard" X-rays", study co-author Richard Mushotzky said in the statement.

Numerous black holes pictured, which were an average of 330 million miles from Earth, were around the same size as both the Milky Way and Andromeda.

They can be produced, for instance, when black holes orbit each other or by the merging of galaxies.

Something similar is expected to happen when our Milky Way galaxy crashes with the nearby Andromeda galaxy, though it's not expected to happen anytime soon, the researchers said.

In this group, only about one per cent of the surveyed galaxies were suspected to host pairs of black holes in the later stages of merging together.

"People had conducted studies to look for these close interacting black holes before, but what really enabled this particular study were the X-rays that can break through the cocoon of dust", explained Koss. High resolution scientists slipped another mystery: apparently orbiting a black hole is unknown, but stable object.

"The images also presage what will likely happen in a few billion years, when our Milky Way galaxy merges with the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy".

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