"Black Holes Collide" by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

Astronomers say they’ve detected the most massive merger of two black holes ever discovered

Sep 2, 2020

By Loren Grush

Astronomers may have detected the most massive collision of two black holes ever discovered, a chaotic merger that occurred some 7 billion years ago, the signs of which have only just reached us. The cataclysmic event offered researchers a front-row seat to the birth of one of the Universe’s most elusive objects.

The distant show included two major players: one black hole roughly 66 times the mass of our Sun, and another black hole roughly 85 times the mass of our Sun. The two came close together, rapidly spinning around one another several times per second before eventually crashing together in a violent burst of energy that sent shockwaves throughout the Universe. The result of their merger? One single black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun.

Such a find could be a big one for astronomers. Up until now, scientists have been able to detect and indirectly observe black holes in two different size ranges. The smaller variety are between five and 100 times the mass of our Sun. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the supermassive black holes — the kinds at the centers of galaxies that are millions and billions of times our Sun’s mass. For ages, scientists have been trying to pinpoint the black holes in between, so-called “intermediate mass black holes” that range from 100 to 1,000 times the mass of the Sun. Astronomers were certain this kind must be out there but hadn’t been able to find any direct evidence of their existence. A few potential intermediate black holes have been spotted, but are still considered candidates.

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