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Astronomers have spotted a distant pair of titanic black holes headed for a collision.
Each black hole's mass is more than 800 million times that of our sun. As the two gradually draw closer together in a death spiral, they will begin sending gravitational waves rippling through space-time. Those cosmic ripples will join the as-yet-undetected background noise of gravitational waves from other supermassive black holes.
Collision - Waves - Hole - Pair - Mergers
Even before the destined collision, the gravitational waves emanating from the supermassive black hole pair will dwarf those previously detected from the mergers of much smaller black holes and neutron stars.
"Supermassive black hole binaries produce the loudest gravitational waves in the universe," says co-discoverer Chiara Mingarelli, an associate research scientist at the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City. Gravitational waves from supermassive black hole pairs "are a million times louder than those detected by LIGO."
Study - Andy - Goulding - Research - Scholar
The study was led by Andy Goulding, an associate research scholar at Princeton University. Goulding, Mingarelli and collaborators from Princeton and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., report the discovery July 10 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The two supermassive black holes are especially interesting because they are around 2.5 billion light-years away from Earth. Since looking at distant objects in astronomy is like looking back in time, the pair belong to a universe 2.5 billion years younger than our own. Coincidentally, that's roughly the same amount of time the astronomers estimate the black holes will take to begin producing powerful gravitational waves.
Universe - Holes - Waves - Speed - Waves
In the present-day universe, the black holes are already emitting these gravitational waves, but even at light speed the waves won't reach us for billions of years. The duo is still useful, though. Their discovery can help scientists estimate how many nearby supermassive black holes are emitting gravitational waves that we could detect right now.
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