Space experts have detected evidence of an epic ancient collision between two black holes that created a new supermassive monster of a unique scale. Alan Weinstein, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology and co-author of the discovery, said: “It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity.”
Black holes are regions of space-time where gravity is so strong that nothing, even light, can escape.
It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity
Professor Alan Weinstein
The theory of general relativity predicts a sufficiently compact mass can deform space-time to form a black hole.
Scientists had until now only had observed them in two sizes.
So-called ‘small’ stellar black holes are formed when a star collapses and are believed to be the size of small cities.
Supermassive black holes are now known to be billions of times larger and lie around galaxies such as our Milky Way.
Recent physics could not, until now, reconcile a size in between.
This is because stars that grew too big before collapsing would devour themselves, leaving no trace of the extreme entities.
Stellar collapses could not create stellar black holes any larger than 70 times than the Sun’s size.
Then two detectors last year detected a signal astronomers now know to be the consequence of two stellar black holes colliding.
The result was the first-known intermediate black hole, 142 times the size of the Sun.
The cosmic collision created a gravitational wave travelling at light speed.
It was this wave scientists spotted using Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo interferometer detectors.
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But despite the unimaginable enormity of the power, the signal lasted only a tenth of a second.
Professor Weinstein said: “It just sounds like a thud. It really doesn’t sound like much on a speaker.
“In astrophysics, we’re always faced with surprises.”
This intergalactic incident happened about seven billion years ago, when the universe was half its current age.
However, this blast wave is only now being detected now because it happened so far away.
Janna Levin, aBarnard College astronomer not involved in the study added: “It’s conceivable this pair of black holes formed entirely differently, possibly in a dense system with lots of dead stars whizzing about, which allows one black hole to capture another during a fly-by.”
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