Cosmic roulette

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Artist’s impression of the centre of the galaxy OJ287 viewed from the side
Artist’s impression of the centre of the galaxy OJ287 viewed from the side with the black holes, their accretion disks and jets of matter during the detected outburst. Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) & M. Mugrauer (AIU Jena)

Almost four billion light years away from Earth in the centre of the galaxy OJ287, two giant black holes orbit each other, which are approximately 18 billion and 150 million times more massive than our sun. The larger of the two black holes is surrounded by a vast accretion disk, a rotating disk of matter that flows towards the black hole at its centre.

The brightness of OJ287 is being monitored as part of an international observation campaign in which the university observatory in Großschwabhausen is also involved. During one orbit, which takes around 12 years, the lower-mass black hole passes through the accretion disc of the central black hole twice, causing massive bursts of brightness that have been observed from Earth several times in the past. ...

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