If you could never wrap your head around the mysterious phenomenon that is a black-hole you’re not alone. Recently, they’ve been confusing astronomers too.
So what are black holes? They’re formed when a massive star collapses at the end of its life cycle aka a star dies.
Essentially, they’re regions of spaces packed so densely that not even light can escape. But up until now, astronomers have only observed them in two sizes – small (aka the size of a small city) and supermassive black holes which are probably millions and billion times more massive than the sun and surrounding galaxies.
Astronomers have recently discovered a black hole that according to their current knowledge, should not even exist as anything between these two sizes is unlikely because stars that grow to be too large would consume themselves leaving no black-holes behind.
This “intermediate mass black-hole” was born out of a merger of two other blackholes. GW190521 (it’s name) weighs 142 times the mass of the sun and is noted as the first “intermediate mass” black-hole to ever be observed.
In all seriousness, the two black-holes in question have been circling each other for a really long time (since seven billion years ago). After circling around each other for about an eternity, they reached out to each other and merged at near the speed of light. Although it occurred 7 billion years ago, the signs of this merger have just started to reach us in Earth time.
The event was detected on 21st May 2019 but only published a day ago (2nd September 2020). It was detected by LIGO detectors in the US and a smaller Virgo observatory in Italy. It was named GW190521, after it’s date of detection.
This merger is one for the record books as it’s one of the most massive and distant to be detected by the LIGO/Virgo collaboration. In way less than second, the merger caused roughly eight times more energy of the sun’s atoms to be released in the form of gravitational waves.
That amount of energy is akin to a million billion atomic bombs being set off every second for 13.8 billion years.
It’s no surprise that this merger is causing a lot of excitement among the scientific community. GW190521 is the first black hole to ever be found in this intermediate range and the bigger surprise is that the bigger of the two black-holes (85 x bigger than the sun’s mass) shouldn’t even exist in that range.
“Our ability to find a black hole a few hundred kilometres-wide from halfway across the universe is one of the most striking realisations of this discovery,” said Karan Jani, astrophysicist who is part of the Nobel-winning LIGO gravitational wave experiment.
This is not the first time that the LIGO/Virgo alliance has found themselves in ‘forbidden’ territory. In June 2020, they detected a merger involving an object which weighed about 2.6 solar masses – this is considered too light to be a black hole.
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World news – GB – Two massive black-holes collided 7 billion years ago. Here’s everything you need to know.