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When Black Holes Collide!


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http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/11/466286219/in-milestone-scientists-detect-waves-in-space-time-as-black-holes-collide

 

 

Far from our galaxy, in the vast darkness of space, two massive black holes merged into a single, larger hole.

And now researchers say they have detected rumblings from that cataclysmic collision as ripples in the very fabric of space-time itself. The discovery comes a century after Albert Einstein first predicted such ripples should exist.
"It's a really big event," says Saul Teukolsky, a theoretical astrophysicist at Cornell University. "This is probably the most exciting episode of my professional career."
Just freakin' awesome, man.

 

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Those are some very small black holes. Put together they come out to somewhere around 65 solar masses. Compared to the black hole at the center of our galaxy's 4,100,000 solar masses those are some real midgets. The biggest stars are over 4 times that mass. When I read "massive" I expected much more.

 

Very cool story though.

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Well, most supermassive black holes would be at the center of galaxies, and therefore unlikely to be closely orbiting another supermassive black hole. That would leave stellar mass black holes as the most likely candidates for generating detectable gravitational waves.

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Galaxies may merge all the time, but are the SMBHs orbiting in such a way to generate detectable gravitational waves?

 

I suppose with a few years refinement of the detectors we'll be picking up all kinds of interesting signals.

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I'm working on a way to break this down to 5th graders because this is something that just proves that Einstein was pretty damn smart. I'm a scientific layman and this is neat to me. Just how they measured this is interesting because they had to rule out outside sources of vibration and it took upgrades in lasers and other refinements to even measure this. I wrote a letter to see about additional resources to possibly include in a science lesson. We start working on learning about planets and space in one of the units I have coming up and I'd like to add this. Black holes aren't detectable so much as you view them as negative space.

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How often is "all the time" on the galactic scale?

Well, we can observe several galaxies in the process of merging right now. "All the time" means all the time. With the number of galaxies in the universe it would be difficult to find a time when it wasn't occurring. At least for several billion more years until expansion carries them to far apart.

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