7 February 2022
What happens when two massive black holes collide and merge? A team of astronomers says we’re about to find out, in as soon as 100 days in early/mid May.
In the center of a galaxy 1.2 billion light-years from Earth, astronomers say they have seen signs that two giant black holes, with a combined mass of hundreds of millions of Suns, are gearing up for a cataclysmic merger as soon as 100 days from now. The event, if it happens, would be momentous for astronomy, offering a glimpse of a long-predicted, but never witnessed mechanism for black hole growth. It might also unleash an explosion of light across the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as a surge of gravitational waves and ghostly particles called neutrinos that could reveal intimate details of the collision.
Black holes are locations in the universe with such extremely strong gravity that nothing — not even light — can escape from them. Anything that comes within a black hole’s “event horizon,” its point of no return, is consumed, never to re-emerge.
Inevitably black holes approach each other, simulated by NASA in 2018.
In 2016 Cornell University simulated what happens when they merge.
Scientists theorized that the merger would generate such powerful gravitational waves that nearby material would radiate light. This light was first seen by astronomers at Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in 2019, illustrated above.
If recent calculations are correct, an even better opportunity is on its way: Two giant black holes are about to crash. It’s the first time we humans know where to look when it happens so astronomers are getting ready to watch.
Hold onto your hats! When giant black holes collide will we hear the crash?
Read more at Science Magazine: Crash of the Titans.
(photo from CalTech/R Hurt (IPAC) embedded from NASA, videos embedded from NASA and Cornell University)