Dancing Black Holes Destined to Merge Emit Weird Light Signal

A collision triggering a titanic release of energy with the power of 100 million supernovae

This simulation helps 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. Credits: Columbia University
This simulation helps 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.
Credits: Columbia University

Space news (February 07, 2016) – A weird, odd light, 3.5 billion light-years away, called PG 1302-102 –

Astronomers working with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) believe they have the most compelling data yet for the existence of merging black holes. Two black holes astronomers think are in the act of merging called PG 1302-102, appear to be emitting a strange, cyclical light signal. 

NASA's GALEX spacecraft scans the night sky. Credit: JPL/NASA
NASA’s GALEX spacecraft scans the night sky.
Credit: JPL/NASA

Trapped within their combined gravity well at a distance slightly bigger than our solar system, they’re destined to collide in less than a million years and trigger a titanic blast that will be heard across the universe. 

Astronomers first identified PG 1302-102 early this year as one of a number of candidate black hole pairs after they detected a weird light signal emanating from the center of a galaxy. After study and thought scientists demonstrated the varying signal detected is probably produced by the movement of two black holes orbiting each other every five years.

Black holes don’t emit light, but the material surrounding a black hole can. Astronomers used ultraviolet data to track the changing light patterns of PG 1302-102 during the past two decades to make this demonstration. 

We were lucky to have GALEX data to look through,” said co-author David Schiminovich of Columbia University in New York. “We went back into the GALEX archives and found that the object just happened to have been observed six times.”

Astronomers were able to test their prediction that black holes generate a cyclical light pattern. In the case of PG, 1302-102 scientists think one of the pairs of black holes emits more light, which means it’s devouring more material than its partner. During a five-year orbit of one pair of black holes, the light they emit changes and brightens to maximum when it points toward us.

It’s as if a 60-Watt light bulb suddenly appears to be 100 Watts,” explained Daniel D’Orazio, lead author of the study from Columbia University. “As the black hole light speeds away from us, it appears as a dimmer 20-Watt bulb.”

Astronomers call this a relativistic boosting effect, which has previously been detected using visible light. This pair of black holes is traveling toward us at speeds considered relativistic, with the fastest traveling at nearly seven percent the speed of light. 

At this speed, light is squeezed to shorter wavelengths as it travels toward us, in the same way, a train’s whistle squeals at higher frequencies as it comes towards you. This boosts and brightens the light detected, producing the periodic brightening and dimming observed.

D’Orazio, Schiminovich, and colleagues modeled the way it should look in ultraviolet light based on research done by other scientists in visible light. They calculated that if the previous brightening and dimming were due to the relativistic boosting effect as was seen in visible light? It should be detected at ultraviolet wavelengths but amplified about 2.5 times. After checking, they discovered their prediction matched ultraviolet light data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope and GALEX. 

We are strengthening our ideas of what’s going on in this system and starting to understand it better,” said Zoltán Haiman, a co-author from Columbia University who conceived the project.

Astronomers will now use the theories and ideas they develop through the study of PG 1302-102 to help understand merging black holes better and find more binary black hole pairs to observe. 

Once astronomers add the data they collect on merging black holes using the Hubble Space Telescope, GALEX and other observatories to the data they expect to achieve through the study and observation of gravitational waves. It will give us a better idea of the population of merging black holes across the universe and lift the veil on cosmic secrets sure to delight the soul.

Cosmic delights await!

You can learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Discover GALEX here.

Learn more about black holes here.

Learn more about the present theory on binary black holes here.

Read about astronomers stunning observations of gravitational waves.

Find out what astronomers believe hides beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Discover the secrets NASA’s New Horizons has been telling astronomers about Pluto.

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Views Gravitational Waves

Traveling across the fabric of spacetime as two black holes merge

This is an artist's impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars . Credits: R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL
This is an artist’s impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars.
Credits: R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL

Space news (February 18, 2016) – It took a hundred years, but Einstein must be smiling, wherever he is –

Astronomers working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) recently announced they had observed the ripples of gravitational waves in space-time as predicted by Albert Einstein in his ground-breaking general theory of relativity in November of 1915. 

Using two LIGO ground-based observatories in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, astrophysicists observed gravitational waves within the range of 10 to 1,000 cycles per second (10 to 1,000 Hz). LIGO is the most sensitive instrument ever devised by man but is only sensitive to gravitational waves within this narrow band of frequencies and specific source types. 

Astronomers believe the gravitational waves observed by LIGO were produced in the final moments of the merger of two black holes into a single, spinning monster black hole. The collision and eventual merger of black holes were predicted by scientists, but this is the first time it has been observed as it happened. You can watch and learn more about astronomers simulations of two black holes merging here.

Astronomers estimate these black holes had masses of about 29 and 36 times the mass of Sol when this event happened about 1.3 billion years ago. At the time of gravitational waves were produced, about three times the mass of our sun was converted in a fraction of a second. In a brief moment of time, astronomers estimate about 50 times the total power output of all the suns in the universe was emitted. 

In this case, astronomers estimate two black holes around 150 meters in diameter, with 29 and 36 times the mass of Sol, collided at nearly half the speed of light and produced the gravitational waves observed. All estimates of size, mass, and other parameters made using LIGO have a significant plus/minus, so the numbers provided should be taken with a grain of salt, or two.

General relativity predicts these black holes collided into each other at almost fifty percent the speed of light. The collision forms a single, more massive black hole, but a portion of the combined mass of the black holes was converted to energy according to Einstein’s E = mc2. It was this energy that was emitted and observed by LIGO as a strong burst of gravitational waves, producing the violent storm in spacetime detected.

Doors to a new cosmos open

This news kicks open doors to a new branch of astrophysics, well refer to as gravitational astronomy, scientists have dreamed of exploring for over 50 years. Astronomers expect this young branch of astronomy to offer information capable of opening doors that will allow us to view the cosmos in ways the study of electromagnetic radiation hasn’t allowed. It will also complement the things we have learned about the cosmos through the detection and study of electromagnetic radiation.

The next phase of gravitational wave observation will be to design and engineer space-based systems to allow us a better view through our new window on the universe. Space-based systems can detect gravitational waves at frequencies from 0.0001 to 0.1 Hz and a bigger range of source types. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are currently developing concepts for space-based observatories capable of detecting gravitational waves.


eLISA will be the first observatory in space to explore the Gravitational Universe. It will gather revolutionary information about the dark universe. Credit: eLISA/ESA
eLISA will be the first observatory in space to explore the Gravitational Universe. It will gather revolutionary information about the dark universe.
Credit: eLISA/ESA

The ESA and NASA are currently developing the first space-based gravitational wave observatory eLISA, which will allow astronomers to directly observe the universe using gravitational waves. eLISA will allow us to listen to the universe in gravitational waves and observe the interesting sources of gravitational waves in the cosmos.

Essentially a high precision laser interferometer in space with an arm length of 1 million km, eLISA will open even more doors and windows to the gravitational universe and extend the cosmic horizon. This important mission extends the spectrum of gravitational waves astronomers want to study.

LISA Pathfinder

LISA Pathfinder is on station at the L1 LaGrange point and is preparing to do an important experiment. Credit: Pathfinder/ESA
LISA Pathfinder is on station at the L1 LaGrange point and is preparing to do an important experiment.
Credit: Pathfinder/ESA

The ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission, in partnership with NASA, is currently getting ready to demonstrate technologies expected to be used in future space-based gravitational observatories. LISA Pathfinder is currently at the L1 LaGrange point, about 1.5 million km in the direction of Sol, and is preparing to begin its science mission.

LISA Pathfinder was made to test the theory that free particles follow geodesics in spacetime, which is a key idea behind the design and engineering of gravitational wave detectors. Scientists had to design and engineer new technologies that allow them to track two test masses nominally in free fall, using picometer resolution laser interferometry. 

You can learn more about NASA here.

Discover the mission of eLISA here.

Learn more about the LISA Pathfinder mission here.

Learn more about LIGO here.

Learn more about the ESA here.

Read about the youngest, nearest black hole candidate found by astronomers.

Learn about US congress recognizing the right of US citizens to own asteroid resources.

Read about concerned earthlings planning on moving to the Red Planet in the future.