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Space and Black Holes: In Virgo Constellation, Collision Coming

Sep 18, 2015 05:43 PM EDT
Black Hole collision
Columbia astronomers have published findings that two huge black holes in the Virgo constellation will smash together sooner than we had thought. This is an artist's conception of the moment before crash.
(Photo : P. Marenfeld/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Two massive black holes are about to smash together in space, and astronomers are watching the flashing lights and taking in the signs. That is, Columbia University researchers recently published their evidence and conclusions about this in the journal Nature.

In that research, the team found that the two black holes are the source of rhythmic light flashing from quasar PG 1302-102. Quasars, by the way, are the brightest objects in the universe and they are powered by black holes. In this case, the quasar is lit up by two black holes, according to a release.

Because everything happens at a different pace in space, the smash-up will happen 100,000 years from now, say the researchers. That's a very short time in space time, though, as the scientists noted in the release.

Currently the black holes are 3.5 billion light years from Earth and are within the Virgo constellation. They are also much closer together--only a light-week--than the last confirmed black hole pair, which were separated by 20 light years, the release said.

"This is the closest we've come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision," said Zoltan Haiman, an astronomer at Columbia who is senior author of the study, in the release. "Watching this process reach its culmination can tell us whether black holes and galaxies grow at the same rate, and ultimately test a fundamental property of space-time: its ability to carry vibrations called gravitational waves, produced in the last, most violent, stage of the merger."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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