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Whirling Black Holes: Dance to End in Cosmic Blast

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.

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)

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.


SRC: By Rick Pantaleo – VOA

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