Published on Apr 28, 2020

Two massive black holes are locked in a dance at the center of the OJ 287 galaxy. The larger black hole is surrounded by disk of gas; it is also orbited by a smaller black hole that collides with the disk, producing a flare brighter than 1 trillion stars. But because the system’s complex physics affects the smaller black hole’s orbit, the flares occur irregularly. Scientists used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to detect one of these bright flashes on July 31, 2019, confirming that they can now anticipate the timing of these flares to within four hours using a detailed model of the system.

In the second half of the video, the animated diagram on the left illustrates the orbit of the smaller black hole (the red dot) around the larger black hole (the stationary white dot) and its collisions with the disk of gas (the pink line), which occur twice per orbit. The years of the collisions are indicated below the diagram and in the graphic on the right shows, dating to 1886.

After more than 16 years of operations in space, Spitzer was retired on Jan. 30, 2020.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Abhimanyu Susobhanan (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research)

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