Black holes remain a perplexing enigma to the space community and a new observation by Australian researchers really just confirms that.
Two enormous black holes were spotted in space. They weigh in at around 85 and 66 times the mass of the Sun but that wasn’t the strange thing about them.
Our current scientific understanding is that once a black hole hits that higher end of mass, around 65 to 130 times the mass of the Sun, they blow apart and leave nothing behind. While the smaller of the pair might scrape by, the larger should be impossible.
The observation was part of a joint international effort by LIGO and VIRGO Scientific Collaboration, featuring researchers from Australian National University (ANU).
ANU’s Professor Susan Scott, a co-author on the publication, explained it was possible the black hole was created after it gobbled up another, smaller black hole.
“We think of black holes as the vacuum cleaners of the Universe. They suck in everything in their paths, including gas clouds and stars,” Professor Scott said in a media release.
“They also suck in other black holes and it is possible to produce bigger and bigger [ones] by the ongoing collisions of earlier generations of black holes. The heavier ‘impossible’ black hole in our detected collision may have been produced in this way.”
The seven-billion-year-old black holes change our understanding completely
Interestingly, given how the speed of light travels, the observation also revealed these two black holes ended up merging around seven billion years ago. This created the largest one ever observed through gravitational waves at a monster 142 times the mass of the Sun. Once a black hole peaks over that 100 mark, it’s referred to as an intermediate mass black holes (IMBHs).
It’s still not certain how it all formed given the limitations of observing these strange phenomena but one theory posits a nearby supermassive black hole could have set off a chain reaction.
“There are a number of different environments in which this system of two black holes could have formed, and the disk of gas surrounding a supermassive black hole is certainly one of them,” ANU’s Dr Vaishali Adya said.
“But it is also possible that this system consisted of two primordial black holes that formed in the early Universe.”
While many questions remain, Dr Adya adds each observation serves to add to our growing understanding of how they form and their effects on the space surrounding them.
“Every observation we make of two black holes colliding gives us new and surprising information about the lives of black holes throughout the Universe. We are beginning to populate the black hole mass gaps previously thought to exist, with ‘impossible’ black holes that have been revealed through our detections,” Dr Adya said.