Whirling Black Holes’ Dance to End in Cosmic Blast

Posted September 18th, 2015 at 10:20 pm (UTC-4)

An artist's simulation to help explain an odd light signal thought to be coming from a close-knit pair of merging black holes, PG 1302-102, located 3.5 billion light-years away. (Columbia University)

An artist’s simulation to help explain an odd light signal thought to be coming from a close-knit pair of merging black holes, PG 1302-102, located 3.5 billion light-years away. (Columbia University)

Some 3.5 billion light years from Earth, in the Virgo Constellation, there are two black holes (binary black hole), locked by gravity, that are madly orbiting each other.

But their orbits are continuing to close in and scientists from Columbia University expect that in about 100,000 years they will join together in one huge cosmic blast.

Right now scientists say that the distance between the two black holes is no bigger than the width of our solar system.

The binary black hole system that also hosts a quasar called PG 1302-102 and it’s pumping out an odd cyclical light signal.

The pair was discovered earlier this year after astronomers at the California Institute of Technology, (Caltech) noticed an odd light beaming from the center of a galaxy.

The Caltech scientists, who used the ground based telescopes of the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey – composed of the Mt. Lemmon Survey, Catalina Sky Survey, and Siding Spring Survey – found that the strange fluctuating light signal is probably being generated by the motion of the orbiting black holes.

It’s thought that the light in the signal probably isn’t coming from the black holes directly but rather from surrounding material.

NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and Hubble Space Telescope provided the historical data that allowed the scientists to further study the black hole duo and gain new details about the odd, cyclical light signal.

“This is the closest we’ve come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision,” said the study’s senior author, Zoltan Haiman, an astronomer at Columbia in a university release.

The researchers say they have been studying the close orbiting black holes so that they can get a better understanding of how galaxies and the giant black holes at their centers merge – something they say happened often in the early days of the universe.

The scientists published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

When the binary black hole, a large one and a smaller companion finally do crash into each other and become one, it’s expected to trigger such a colossal cosmological blast that will be comparable to the explosion of 100 million supernovae. It has been predicted that the blast will also send out ripples in space and time (gravitational waves).

If it were possible for us to still be here in 100,000 years, we would be in for quite a show when these two black holes collide.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

6 responses to “Whirling Black Holes’ Dance to End in Cosmic Blast”

  1. Harry Lambers says:

    If the black holes are some 3.5 billion light years from Earth, have the two already come together and the result will reach us in 100,000 years or will it happen in 100,000 years and earth will see it in 3.51 billion years?

  2. Jim Dire says:

    Yes, for all practical purposes whatever happened has already happened long, long ago. We just won’t see it for 100,000 years.

  3. Venu Atiyolil says:

    If gravity is not a force, then it hasn’t happened yet. Einstein said, gravity is a distortion of time-space continuum. In other words, he said gravity is not a force as imagined in classical physics. The effect of gravity may be instantaneous as fundamental particles of gravity is not known.

    Einstein ingenuously described gravity. He did not define gravity, in my opinion.. The definition of gravity still is non-existent or not all that well defined.

  4. George Mavros says:

    Exciting stuff, indeed. As far as the gravitational questions & Einstein go it might be something much simpler than we could ever imagine, perhaps so far simpler that most likely we will never find out the true nature of ‘gravity’ or the nature of the universe, because we are a very complex organism with a brain that describes reality for us. I do not believe that the universe or any subatomic particle think with a brain, as a matter of fact I know they do not think at all. Einstein’s cosmological constant (now described as black energy-matter) might be the basic ‘fabric’ of all existence. I also do not believe that the universe is ‘aware’ or that it even requires gravity, time-space or any of our observations, theories and deductions. As far as I can understand it, it is all one and the same thing, simply put it is an existence that only we can be aware of, by the way the atoms/matter that we are composed of and therefore we can only sense. The best I can come with is that everything is ‘connected’ as one and it just exists. We can sense traveling infinitely in or out in any direction and from any point which proves that we and everything else are in a singular ‘place’. As far as the universe is concerned it has no time, distance, weight, substance or anything that we presume it has, it is our brain that has created this ‘reality’. For sure everything that we observe exists for us, but not for a brainless universe.
    I am just an amateur scientist speaking out my thoughts.