A team of astronomers using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile has captured an image of the aftermath of a collision between spiral galaxies, revealing swirling bands of interstellar dust and gas that resemble cotton candy. At the heart of this celestial chaos lie two supermassive black holes offering insight into a billion-year-old cosmic dance and the impending merger of these astronomical giants.
Photo: EFE/ International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA
The Latin American Post Staff
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Leer en español: Telescopio en Chile revela impactante imagen de colisión de galaxias que se asemeja al algodón de azúcar
Capturing the Echoes of a Cosmic Clash
Thanks to the Gemini South Telescope, a team of astronomers from Chile has managed to capture an image that records the consequences of a collision between spiral galaxies that occurred a billion years ago. The image reveals vast swirling bands of interstellar dust and gas reminiscent of cotton candy.
Unraveling the Central Enigma: Supermassive Black Holes
At the center of this chaotic interaction are two supermassive black holes, the closest of their kind recorded from Earth, as reported by the American National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab).
The spiraling arms of a spiral galaxy are among the most recognizable features in the cosmos, consisting of long, circular bands extending from a central nucleus, each filled with dust, gas, and dazzling regions where new stars are forming.
NGC 7727: A Galaxy Transformed
However, this distinctive figure can deform and take on a much stranger and more amorphous shape during a merger with another galaxy.
This is the case with NGC 7727, a peculiar galaxy located in the Aquarius constellation, about 90 million light-years from the Milky Way.
The team of astronomers captured the image of the aftermath of the merger using the multi-object spectrograph installed on the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, which is part of the International Observatory of the same name operated by NOIRLab of the NSF (National Science Foundation) and AURA (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy).
"The image reveals vast swirling bands of interstellar dust and gas that resemble freshly spun cotton candy as they wrap around the merged cores of the original galaxies."
As a result, a scattered mix of active star-forming regions and bands of dust surrounds the system.
NGC 7727 stands out for its twin galactic nuclei, each of which hosts a supermassive black hole, as confirmed by scientists using the VLT telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
A Cosmic Ballet: The Dance of Supermassive Black Holes
The two supermassive black holes, one with 154 million solar masses and the other with 6.3 million solar masses are separated by approximately 1,600 light-years. It is estimated that they will eventually merge in around 250 million years, forming an even more massive black hole while emitting violent gravitational waves through spacetime.
Once the dust settles, NGC 7727 will eventually become an elliptical galaxy composed of older stars with minimal ongoing star formation.