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Researchers have spotted the most powerful black hole merger ever recorded and unearthed evidence of a previously disputed class of black hole: intermediate-mass black holes. The astronomers used the LIGO and Virgo observatories to analyze the gravitational waves. The perplexing collision could be the result of a chain reaction of collisions, researchers say.
Roughly seven billion years ago, two monstrous black holes slammed together in a catastrophic celestial event so intense, it shot a pulse of gravitational waves out across the universe. Astonishingly, those gravitational waves only reached Earth one year ago, and astronomers now believe they’ve spotted the most powerful black hole collision yet: an event they’ve dubbed GW190521.
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Researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. and the Virgo Observatory in Italy first detected the waves—ripples in the fabric of space-time—in May 2019. The two smashed black holes at the heart of the collision were 66 and 85 times more massive than our sun, astronomers report in two papers published last week in Physical Review Letters and The Astrophysical Journal. When they collided, they formed a gargantuan black hole approximately 142 times more massive than our sun.
The Black Hole Picture Changed Science
Not only is this likely the most powerful explosion ever recorded, but it proves the existence of a rare class of black holes: intermediate-mass black holes. “Now we can settle the case and say that intermediate-mass black holes exist,” LIGO astrophysicist Christopher Berry of Northwestern University, told National Geographic.
A black hole 85 times the mass of our sun theoretically shouldn’t exist. It doesn’t pair well with the theories researchers have about how stars die.
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