This new observation of two black holes merging might change the laws of physics. 

Seeing a black hole is the most astronomically impossible thing to ever claim. That wasn’t until April 2019, when astronomers detected for the first time radiation around a black hole’s event horizon. Surprisingly, it seems black holes aren’t hidden from the universe entirely. If current theories about black holes are confirmed, then there might be the possibility of astronomers witnessing the light emission from the collision of two supermassive black holes for the first time. Caution: No spoilers.

A Tale Of Two Merging Monsters

Let’s take a brief crash course about black holes. These are cosmic bodies that are formed from the death and collapse of supermassive stars. As a massive star collapses on itself, it reaches a point were it seems density and gravity are the same. As a result, it becomes impossible for anything to escape it, not even light. And for this reason, black holes are said to be invisible — at least for observation.

Image: NASA|artist concept of an accretion disk surrounding a black hole pulsating

However, in a rare astronomical event, astronomers claim to have observed light from two black holes merge for the first time ever. The only possible way astronomers have been able to observe black holes colliding is by detecting the resulting gravitational wave. According to the theory of general relativity, gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime that are created when extreme collisions happen between supermassive cosmic objects such as black holes and neutron stars.

The first detection of gravitational waves was in 2015, and ever since, astronomers are studying more on how they are created. The new observation is significant since black holes never allow light to escape from it. This gives astronomers an opportunity to delve deep into the monsters that are responsible in forming galaxies in the universe. If confirmed, this would be the first detected light flare from a pair of merging black holes creating a gravitational wave.

I See You When You Crash There

The observation was conducted by a team of astronomers using Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) located at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California. They believe that this might be the first such of many more observations to be witnessed in the future.

The collision of the two black holes was first detected on May 21, 2019 by two gravitational wave detectors: the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), and the European Virgo detectors. The team detected for the first time what they thought was gravitational wave signal of light emission that originated from the location of the merging black holes. This event was later dubbed “GW190521g.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), also release a visual concept of the event that depicts a supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disk — in which there are the two merger black holes.

“These gravitational wave detectors have also spotted mergers between dense cosmic objects called neutron stars, and astronomers have identified light emissions from those collisions,” according to NASA in a statement.

That’s A Banging Telltale

Image: NASA|artist concept of two o supermassive black holes about to collide

In a study published in Nature, astronomers reported the observation of X-ray emissions around the supermassive black hole and its accretion disk. And before this ground-breaking observation, astronomers had already observed light from a black hole. This detection was by coincidence. Astronomers were studying the feature of light around the corona — a form of X-ray formed when materials fall into a supermassive black hole. This is how they observe, analyze, and map out how to characterize black holes.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Nov 29, 2021.


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