Nearby Galaxy Boasts Two Monster Black Holes, Both Active

  • Released Friday, June 10, 2011

A study using NASA's Swift satellite and the Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a second supersized black hole at the heart of an unusual nearby galaxy already known to be sporting one.

The galaxy, which is known as Markarian 739 or NGC 3758, lies 425 million light-years away toward the constellation Leo. Only about 11,000 light-years separate the two cores, each of which contains a black hole gorging on infalling gas.

Astronomers refer to galaxy centers exhibiting such intense emission as active galactic nuclei (AGN). Yet as common as monster black holes are, only about one percent of them are currently powerful AGN. Binary AGN are rarer still: Markarian 739 is only the second identified within half a billion light-years.

Many scientists think that disruptive events like galaxy collisions trigger AGN to switch on by sending large amounts of gas toward the black hole. As the gas spirals inward, it becomes extremely hot and radiates huge amounts of energy.

Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal the western core (right) to be a previously unknown AGN; past studies already had identified an AGN in the eastern core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away. Credit: SDSS

Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal the western core (right) to be a previously unknown AGN; past studies already had identified an AGN in the eastern core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away.

Credit: SDSS

Wider view, centered on Markarian 739.  Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal that the eastern core (left) as a previously unknown AGN; past studies had identified an AGN in the western core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away. Credit: SDSS

Wider view, centered on Markarian 739. Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal that the eastern core (left) as a previously unknown AGN; past studies had identified an AGN in the western core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away.

Credit: SDSS



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NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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This page was originally published on Friday, June 10, 2011.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:53 PM EDT.


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  • Various Small Astrophysics projects (ID: 2010139)
    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 5:00AM
    Produced by - Robert Crippen (NASA)

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