Starts With A Bang

Origin Of LIGO’s Merging Black Holes Finally Discovered! (Synopsis)

A double black hole. Image credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI).

“Black holes can bang against space-time as mallets on a drum and have a very characteristic song.” -Janna Levin

If you had told an astrophysicist five years ago that binary black holes were common, that would’ve been news, but not surprising. If you had told them that ~30 solar masses was a good estimate for each one of their masses, though, you might have had to pick their jaws up off the floor. Yet LIGO’s very first detection showed us exactly that, much to the surprise of many.

The inspiral and merger of the first pair of black holes ever directly observed. Image credit: B. P. Abbott et al. (LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration).

So how did these black holes come to be? After much numerical study, it appears that young, metal-poor stars about 40-100 solar masses each conspired to create these binary black hole pairs, with only one of the members resulting in a supernova. The rest is cosmic history.

Artist’s impression of two merging black holes, with accretion disks. The density and energy of the matter here is woefully insufficient to create gamma ray or X-ray bursts. Image credit: NASA / Dana Berry (Skyworks Digital).

Come see what the latest results indicate, and what it means for future black hole detection prospects over on Forbes today!