'Impossible' black hole causes biggest collision ever detected by gravitational waves

Katie Ramirez
September 5, 2020

In a 2014 paper published in the journal Science, Natarajan and her colleague proposed that the creation of black holes similar to the 142 solar-mass one discovered previous year could have come within a dense cluster of stars, much in the way the new discovery has been observed (though in her paper, the black hole was larger).

In black holes, gravity is so strong that no light can escape - making them completely invisible.

Now researchers have detected a signal from what may be the most massive black hole merger yet observed in gravitational waves.

The uniquely large masses of the two inspiraling black holes, as well as the final black hole, raise a slew of questions regarding their formation.

As per the researchers, the collision produced a single entity with a mass 142 times that of the Sun. The latest gravitational waves announcement from the LIGO-Virgo collaborations could change this.

One possibility, which the researchers consider in their second paper, is of a hierarchical merger, in which the two progenitor black holes themselves may have formed from the merging of two smaller black holes, before migrating together and eventually merging. "Soon, when we have analyzed all binary black hole mergers seen by LIGO and Virgo in their third observing run we might know more".

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The discovery, published today in Physical Review Letters, identifies an intermediate mass black hole.

Christensen said all this came from a signal that lasted about a tenth of second and resulted from an event that occurred about 7 billion years ago.

There are a number of different environments in which this system of two black holes could have formed, and the disk of gas surrounding a supermassive black hole is certainly one of them.

The subsequently released energy, equivalent to about eight solar masses, took the form of gravitational waves, spreading across the universe.

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The black hole issue really attracts people who are interested in space science. GW 190521's 85-solar-mass black hole is the first black hole confidently detected in this mass gap.

If you could never wrap your head around the mysterious phenomenon that is a black-hole you're not alone. The scientists are still not clear as to how the black holes grow. Astrophysicists often estimate the size of the object from the properties of gravitational waves. Astronomers have named the gravitational wave event as GW190521.

"This is the first time we've observed an intermediate mass black hole, nearly twice as heavy as any other black hole ever observed with gravitational-waves", says Juan Calderón Bustillo from Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

This collision created a monster black hole nearly 150 times the mass of our Sun.

Since 2015, scientists have been observing black holes being born in the collision of two others using gravitational waves. These are thought to form when massive stars die.

Not only do these results shed new light on intermediate-mass and upper mass-gap black holes, they are a key to understanding another black hole mystery - how supermassive beasts get so, well, supermassive.

That is, we haven't observed any black holes whose mass is more than that comparable to hundreds of stars but less than that of billions of stars.

"The "impossible" black hole formed by the collision lies in the black hole desert between 100 and 1,000 times the mass of the Sun", Professor Scott, who is also the Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), said.

The findings, she added, support the idea that supermassive black holes could be formed through the repeated merger of these mid-sized bodies.

But LIGO's most recent discovery, which has been labeled GW190521, stands out from the crowd.

"This event opens more questions than it provides answers", said Alan Weinstein, LIGO member and a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, in a statement. The other is represented by supermassive black holes, which are found at the heart of many galaxies. "And so we predict that if you make two in that way, they can not be the same mass, they will be different. and that's what is seen now, so that's kind of exciting".

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