If you thought LIGO’s recent discoveries were profound and unusual, wait until you meet OJ 287.
Recently, LIGO has revolutionized our knowledge of the Universe by discovering merging black holes.
Near the centers of galaxies, mergers, accretion, and collisions create supermassive black holes undetectable by LIGO.
Practically all galaxies contain them, including our Milky Way.
When supermassive black holes feed on matter, they form active galactic nuclei or quasars.
Two bipolar jets are often emitted, creating a blazar when one points at us.
Over time, galaxies merge, causing their black holes to sink to the new galaxy’s core, where they coalesce.
In 1891, the object OJ 287, 3.5 billion light years distant and a blazar itself, optically bursted.
Every 11–12 years since, it’s produced another burst, recently discovered to have two, narrowly-separated peaks.
Its central, supermassive black hole is 18 billion solar masses, one of the largest known in the Universe.
This periodic double-burst arises from a 100–150 million solar mass black hole punching through the primary’s accretion disk.
Due to General Relativity, these orbits precess 27,000 times faster than Mercury’s around the Sun.
In all the subsequent decades, we’ve found only one additional supermassive black hole binary.
A scaled-up version of LISA, with satellites at L4, L5, and around Earth, should detect it immediately.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the scientific story of an astronomical object, process, or phenomenon in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less, smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.