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When Black Holes Collide

Black holes are incredibly dense objects, crushed into an infinitesimal volume and possessing a nearly unbelievably powerful gravitational pull. Since 2017, scientists have determined that they also sometimes collide.

While there aren’t limitations on the size of black holes, even ‘size’ doesn’t mean what we usually think of it to mean. We usually think of size with respect to the volume of something. That simply doesn’t apply to a black hole. Instead, the difference is in mass.

There are two known black holes in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Each of these has masses that are millions of times greater than our sun. However, the actual black holes (the singularities) occupy a space much smaller than a single atom.

When an object is that massive, it exerts gravitation that is equally as enormous. It warps space and time. This is something that can be measured. The gravitational pull is so strong that even light can’t escape the pull, which is why it is called a black hole. It can’t be directly seen because light is necessary to see something.

In theory, though, particles that are pulled into a black hole would spiral in. The closer they got to an event horizon…the point at which light can’t escape…the faster the particles should move. Those particles should be ‘viewable’. As it turns out, this was correct. The picture shown here shows the event horizon that surrounds a supermassive black hole in the middle of a galaxy named M87. It is the first picture we have of a black hole, which is the dark space in the center. It is believed that all galaxies contain at least one black hole.

The black hole ‘devours’ anything that comes too close, including stars. Apparently, it can also devour another black hole, merging with it. This was all speculation and theory until 2017 when such an event happened and was measured. The collision caused a gravitational wave distortion of time and space that passed through the earth and was detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

This is a 2.5-mile L-shaped device that uses a laser and mirrors. Tiny gravitational changes can be detected due to the displacement of the laser beam.

Such a gravitational wave also carries an enormous amount of data with it. Scientists can determine what caused it, in this case, the collision of two black holes, the mass of each black hole, the distance away from the earth, how fast the black holes were spinning, and much more.

Since 2017, more collisions have been detected and it appears that this isn’t an unusual occurrence. More sensitive devices are now being built that should increase the data vastly. One such device is supposed to be 10 times more sensitive than LIGO.

  • Did you know that in 2017, the earth was blasted by a gravitational wave that changed space and time on the earth for a split instant?

    • Yes
    • No
    • This is fascinating
    • This is scary

What do you think?

13 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • This event shed new light on black holes, though. For one thing, Dr. Hawking was outspoken in is belief that black holes have hair and the data collected indicates that black holes are probably bald. There is also an indication that black holes may be responsible for causing ordinary galaxies to turn into quasars and that this can happen far faster than was originally believed.

      • Einsteins last big thing (with Rosen) was the concept that a black hole would, in fact, open a wormhole (space and time).

        Theories are just that, theories. Great ideas, until they are tested and proven,, or tested and rejected!

        • What I find amusing is that usually, when there is evidence that one theory might be correct, often an opposing theory might be totally rejected, though the truth could be a combination of both theories.

          It was once believed that the craters on the moon were entirely from meteorite impacts. The Apollo landings proved that some of them were caused by volcanic activity. These were opposing theories and the truth turns out to be a combination of both.

    • It most certainly is. It is difficult to imagine how much larger the sun is than the earth. Trying to imagine something that has the mass of millions of suns is staggering and all of that compressed into a space that is too small to see….

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