Astronomers detect gravitational waves from the most massive black hole merger yet

Black Holes

Black Holes

"A supermassive black hole that exists at the center of".

It came from two black holes weighing in at 85 and 66 times the mass of the Sun, respectively. After the pair merged - producing a gravitational wave picked up by detectors - they created a black hole 142 times the mass of the sun.

The findings were published in two papers in the journal Physical Review Letters and the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Because of the mass, the GW190521 signal was nearly entirely dominated by merger ringdown, which allowed us to measure the ringdown frequencies with a high precision.

Jani explains that IMBHs exist in what is known as a "black hole desert" given that we previously had no observationally confirmed signal of an IMBH's existence.

Perhaps more interesting to astrophysicists are the origins of the two merging black holes.

An artist's concept of a hierarchical scheme for merging black holes. It is the most distant and oldest ever detected, with the gravitational waves taking seven billion years to arrive at Earth, and is also the most massive black hole ever observed through gravitational waves.

"This event is a challenge for the current models of black hole formation", said Mapelli.

The gravitational wave research group from IIT Bombay is playing a key role in the intermediate mass black hole search in the LIGO-Virgo data along with the colleagues from LIGO Scientific and Virgo collaboration since the first observing run.

He added: "It's also possible that black holes of this size might have been formed by stripping gas from other nearby stars to add to their own mass before they collided with each other".

A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing-no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light-can escape from it. But they're not all created equally.

According to current knowledge, the gravitational collapse of a star can not form black holes in the range of 60 to 120 solar masses because - at that size - the stars are completely blown apart by the supernova explosion that accompanies collapse. But in the very biggest stars, the collapse is even more catastrophic, causing a runaway thermonuclear explosion that destroys the star and leaves nothing behind. So if it wasn't created by the collapse of a star, how did it form? GW 190521's 85-solar-mass black hole is the first black hole confidently detected in this mass gap.

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The newly formed black hole is nearly twice the mass of previous discoveries, putting it into the intermediate-mass range. The lighter one is right on the cusp of the mass gap, so it could well have formed from a single gargantuan star.

The end result: The first ever discovered intermediate black hole, at 142 times the mass of the sun. Given the sizes of the black holes involved, the latest detection may offer a clue to how supermassive blackholes at the centre of galaxies are formed.

"There's been no observational evidence prior to this discovery", Goetz said.

Back then there was a lot of dense material clumping together so it might have been possible for a black hole to form without having been a star in the first place.

There are two leading theories as to how these seemingly impossible things have come to be.

Each new gravitational wave discovery is exciting, Ms Romero-Shaw said. She was not involved with the research.

"Our ability to find a black hole a few hundred kilometres-wide from half-way across the Universe is one of the most striking realisations of this discovery", Jani added.

This chart compares the GW190521 merger event to others witnessed by LIGO and Virgo.

That led to the suggestions that the black holes could already be the result of mergers that helped them grow more massive than expected. "And then it becomes massive, and it grows to about 50 times and then it sinks to the centre". "They are both very big; Something we know can't make stars".

Instead of the telltale "chirp" of two black holes spiralling in towards each other, the sensitive instruments captured just a blip in the moment before the holes collided.

"We need more observations of this type of signal".

Typically, there is a natural mass limit to black holes that can be anticipated and calculated using the mass of stars, as the gravitational collapse of stars forms the black holes. He notes that the process for making an IMBH is 500 times more rare than that of either stellar or supermassive black holes - on par with the odds of intercepting a golf ball shot from Argentina in mid-flight with a second golf ball shot from China.

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