Two supermassive black holes are locked in a dance in the OJ 287 galaxy. The larger black hole is 18 billion times the mass of our sun and surrounded by disk of gas. It is also orbited by a smaller black hole about 150 million times the mass of our sun that crashes through the disk and produces a flare brighter than 1 trillion stars. But the complex physics of the system affect the smaller black hole's orbit, and the flares occur irregularly.
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) at the center of the OJ 287 galaxy. The pink line represents a disk of gas and dust — seen edge-on — surrounding the larger black hole. The smaller black hole collides with disk twice per orbit. The graphic on the right shows the calculated timing of the flares since 1886.
Video Credit: NASA/JPL/Abhimanyu Susobhanan (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research)