Black holes set to collide

Published: October 2, 2015

ALEX HABER 
Science & Tech Editor

The nature of black holes sits at the center of interest for many in the field of astronomy. The existence of black holes, and how matter functions within them, is a topic of debate among members of the field.

Recently in the scientific journal Nature, Daniel D’Orazio, Ph.D., of Columbia University proposed the impending collision of two black holes.

The black holes referred to in the study are roughly 3.5 billion lightyears away from Earth and orbit around each other. They are less than 200 billion miles apart, one of the closest binaries ever recorded. A binary black hole is a system consisting of two closely orbiting black holes. This can result from a binary star system or the merging of galaxies. The binary is located in a quasar known as PG- 1302-102. A quasar is a supermassive black hole that forms a powerful gravitational pull that holds a galaxy together. PG-1302-102 sits at the center of an elliptical galaxy. The two black holes in this quasar are set on a course for collision sometime in the next 100,000 years. In order to detect the existence of the binary, scientists had to observe the effect it had on surrounding objects.

Detection of the binaries results from the bending of light around the black holes. Black holes cannot be observed with the naked eye in space. Their existence must instead be confirmed by the way objects, in this case light, act around them.

Massive objects near a black hole will exhibit motions caused by a strong gravitational force acting on them. The motion is observed as a wobble or rotation. This motion would only occur in the presence of an object of greater mass, such as a black hole.

The result of the collision will be beyond what has been previously observed in space. We have seen the results of when stars go supernova, which can lead to the creation of a black hole, but that will be insignificant compared to the cataclysmic result of the collision of the binary. The collision of the two black holes will result in an event that will alter the fabric of space around it. The result offers the opportunity for scientists to test Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in the most extreme circumstances possible.

We will not have to wait for the collision to observe similar phenomena. The study offered ways to identify other binaries that appear to be on a collision course. Scientists’ insight into the behavior of binaries closer than one parsec, roughly 3.26 lightyears or 19 trillion miles, can be used to detect the presence of other binaries on a collision course.

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