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Astronomers spot supermassive black hole duo that's the closest to Earth yet

One day they'll combine into a super-duper, super-terrifying and even more massive single black hole.

Close-up and wide views of the nearest pair of supermassive black holes.
ESO/Voggel et al.

Scientists have spotted a pair of the most powerful monsters known to humans, and this destructive duo is closer to our planet than any ever seen before. 

Fortunately, the couple of supermassive black holes discovered by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope in Chile are still 89 million light years away from us in the galaxy NGC 7727. That's plenty far enough for humanity to be able to continue to sleep well at night for the rest of our existence without being kept up by the prospect that this terrible team is coming to swallow everything we've ever known.

But while it's a comfortable distance, it's much closer than the previous record for a supermassive black hole pair, which is 470 million light years distant. 

Karina Voggel, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Observatory in France, explains in a statement that these tumultuous twosomes form when huge galaxies merge and the supermassive black hole at the center of each set a course for collision.

"It is the first time we find two supermassive black holes that are this close to each other, less than half the separation of the previous record holder."

That separation is more than it appears, though, at 1,600 light years.

Voggel is also lead author of a paper detailing the new discovery published online Tuesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Remarkably, when the two already supermassive black holes eventually do collide, the will create an even bigger nightmare void.

"The small separation and velocity of the two black holes indicate that they will merge into one monster black hole, probably within the next 250 million years," adds co-author Holger Baumgardt  from the University of Queensland in Australia. 

The researchers say they now expect to find even more such cosmic colossuses in deep space.

"Our finding implies that there might be many more of these relics of galaxy mergers out there and they may contain many hidden massive black holes that still wait to be found," says Voggel. "It could increase the total number of supermassive black holes known in the local Universe by 30 percent."

Some may be even closer to Earth, which should be okay, so long as we measure the distance in millions of light years.