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NGC 6240: Black Holes Go "Mano A Mano"
NGC 6240
NGC 6240

  • NGC 6240 is a galaxy that contains two supermassive black holes in the process of merging

  • Scientists think the merger began about 30 million years ago and will conclude some tens or hundreds of millions of years in the future

  • Understanding what happens when black holes merge is an open and active area of current astrophysics

This image of NGC 6240 contains new X-ray data from Chandra (shown in red, orange, and yellow) that has been combined with an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope originally released in 2008. In 2002, the discovery of two merging black holes was announced based on Chandra data in this galaxy. The two black holes are a mere 3,000 light years apart and are seen as the bright point-like sources in the middle of the image.

Scientists think these black holes are in such close proximity because they are in the midst of spiraling toward each other — a process that began about 30 million years ago. It is estimated that the two black holes will eventually drift together and merge into a larger black hole some tens or hundreds of millions of years from now.

Finding and studying merging black holes has become a very active field of research in astrophysics. Since 2002, there has been intense interest in follow-up observations of NGC 6240 by Chandra and other telescopes, as well as a search for similar systems. Understanding what happens when these exotic objects interact with one another remains an intriguing question for scientists.

The formation of multiple systems of supermassive black holes should be common in the Universe, since many galaxies undergo collisions and mergers with other galaxies, most of which contain supermassive black holes. It is thought that pairs of massive black holes can explain some of the unusual behavior seen by rapidly growing supermassive black holes, such as the distortion and bending seen in the powerful jets they produce. Also, pairs of massive black holes in the process of merging are expected to be the most powerful sources of gravitational waves in the Universe.

Fast Facts for NGC 6240:
Credit  X-ray (NASA/CXC/MIT/C.Canizares, M.Nowak); Optical (NASA/STScI)
Release Date  October 06, 2009
Scale  Image is 124 arcmin across
Category  Black Holes, Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 16h 52m 59s | Dec 02° 24´ 01.70"
Constellation  Ophiuchus
Observation Date  May 11, 2006
Observation Time  40 hours
Obs. ID  6909
Instrument  ACIS
Color Code  red (0.5-1.5 keV); green (1.5-5 keV); blue (5-8 keV)
Distance Estimate  About 330 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (16)

Dear George Nixon,
Thanks for your interesting comment, but I disagree with your contention that "practically all of physics disputes that they can exist in physical reality". I think only a small fraction of physicists and astronomers dispute that they really exist. It's important that such skeptics exist, just as as it's important that skeptics about the existence of dark matter and dark energy exist, but they're outnumbered by a lot of smart people who are also very skeptical in their own right, but believe in these exotic objects.

P.Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P Edmonds on Wednesday, 03.9.11 @ 11:08am

I too appreciate the opportunity to view such images of the wonders out there. However, although a mathematical existence of massive and super massive Black Holes is a logical postulation, practically all of physics disputes that they can exist in physical reality, despite the observed phenomena that demands an explanation. To ascertain the reasoning backing that statement it is available at the email address provided.

Posted by George Nixon on Friday, 03.4.11 @ 01:33am

Dear Nelda,
Stellar destruction doesn't seem very loving, does it? But, I don't think all of the stars would be doomed, depending on what their orbits are like. For example, some might end up being ejected from the center of the galaxy in a type of gravitational slingshot.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Thursday, 11.18.10 @ 16:03pm

So, it would seem that stars located in plane of their mutual orbit within the volume of space between them, sphere of diameter 3,000 light years, are doomed to be absorbed by one of these black holes as they spiral to together in the course of the next hundred million years or so.
Would that reveal the loving hand of the creator at work?

Posted by Nelda on Tuesday, 11.16.10 @ 19:15pm

I am fascinated by the symmetry of the tri-lobed x-ray emissions around the two point sources. Since these emissions come from accretion into the black holes is there any theory as to why it has formed this shape?

Posted by SteveZodiac on Friday, 08.20.10 @ 11:21am

I have read many science books dealing with the subject of black holes. My question is what is the present day theory of the purpose of black holes in the center of galaxies? In some of these books they were called the engines of the galaxies but this does not explain very much to me.

Posted by Marvin L. S. on Monday, 11.30.09 @ 19:25pm

This is ecstatic and very educational, thank you for giving us this update.

Posted by sandra smith on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 13:40pm

Ever since Hubble and Chandra images were avail for viewing, I am reminded of the awesome and Majestic hand of God and how thankful I am to be in this universe, and to Galileo, to have invented a seeing instrument, that is no more 3 to 4 ft long, to help humanity see so far. Every time I look at any of these cosmic views, I am in Love with.
The Wheel in the Sky and all the things in the Heavens it only gets sweeter and sweeter, the deeper I go.

Posted by venla on Friday, 11.6.09 @ 08:28am

Dear Polprav,
Yes, you can quote a post in your blog.

P. Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P Edmonds on Tuesday, 10.27.09 @ 13:33pm

The image is so attractive that I can,t stop looking at. The Universe is so marvelous that I don't know how to describe and mention. We are so lucky that we are born and live in this planet earth in the big big family of this full of astonishment Universe.

Posted by 27743 22283 28814 on Friday, 10.23.09 @ 20:02pm

Hello from Russia.
Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

Posted by Polprav on Friday, 10.23.09 @ 00:59am

We give it 8 stars.

Posted by kuoeng on Tuesday, 10.20.09 @ 19:55pm

It is beyond imagination every picture an astonishing sample of the immensity of God's creation and man's accomplishment. Thanks for this investigations and research.

Posted by Alvaro Perilla on Saturday, 10.10.09 @ 11:56am

The dance of these two supermassive black holes is so beautiful. I can not stop looking at this Image.
And I can see in my one mind the power of gravity and the gravitational waves coming from these two black holes.

Posted by John P Langridge on Wednesday, 10.7.09 @ 09:31am

Thanks for the image.
These new images are proving invaluable in testing theories.

Posted by Mark Ballington on Wednesday, 10.7.09 @ 03:59am

WOW, give it 5 stars.

Posted by Sherm Goodell on Tuesday, 10.6.09 @ 20:21pm

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