Colliding Supermassive Black Holes Discovered in Nearby Galaxy

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January 19, 2023

Dear Reader,
 

This week, we’re pondering some cosmic choreography. Our lead story concerns the recent discovery of two supermassive black holes, each weighing a hundred million suns or more, locked in a gravitational dance that will eventually result in their merging as one. Astronomers have spied such things many times before, but this pair is notable for being both close to us (their host galaxy is a mere half-billion light-years away) and close together (separated by just 750 light-years or so). Studying the system could unveil new details of how, exactly, two gargantuan black holes spiral together and coalesce—a surprisingly unsolved problem of astrophysics, and a crucial component of how smaller galaxies grow into larger ones. Elsewhere this week, we have stories on laser-generated lightning, a bookish history of slime, “forbidden” exoplanets, and more. Enjoy!

Lee Billings, Senior Editor, Space & Physics

Black Holes

Colliding Supermassive Black Holes Discovered in Nearby Galaxy

These merging supermassive black holes are among the closest ever observed and could help unlock deeper secrets of cosmic history

By Allison Parshall

Energy

Scientists Fire Lasers at the Sky to Control Lightning

Laser beams could be used to deflect lightning strikes from vulnerable places such as airports and wind farms

By Allison Parshall

Extraterrestrial Life

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life as We Don't Know It

Scientists are abandoning conventional thinking to search for extraterrestrial creatures that bear little resemblance to Earthlings

By Sarah Scoles

Arts

Death, Sex and Aliens: A Surprising History of Slime

Sublime slime, sprawling light pollution, harnessing the bioelectricity in our body, and more books out this month

By Amy Brady

Planetary Science

Cataclysmic Collisions May Explain 'Forbidden' Exoplanets

A new model could explain the scarcity of certain planet sizes

By Daniel Leonard

Quantum Physics

Poem: 'A Quantum Cento'

Science in meter and verse

By Lorraine Schein

Artificial Intelligence

What an Endless Conversation with Werner Herzog Can Teach Us about AI

An AI-generated conversation between Werner Herzog and Slavoj Žižek is definitely entertaining, but it also illustrates the crisis of misinformation beginning to befall us

By Giacomo Miceli
FROM THE ARCHIVE

Meet "Spikey," a Possible Pair of Merging Supermassive Black Holes

A flare predicted for this spring could confirm the object is indeed two monstrous black holes coming together

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