"GW190521 originated from the collision of two black holes that are each heavier than any LIGO/Virgo has observed before," explains Rory Smith, an astrophysicist at Monash University in Australia who works with the LIGO/Virgo collaboration.
The information contained in the wave provides researchers with new insight into the composition of black holes and underscores the power of gravitational wave astronomy to cut through the dark forest of our cosmos, reveal its secrets and unveil new mysteries.
The researchers reasoned that this event occurred in a huge gaseous debris disk surrounding an active galactic nucleus and that the flare was caused by a black hole being kicked out of the gaseous disk.
It seems the two black holes that collided in GW190521 were themselves the result of black hole collisions between two lighter black holes.
The two black holes that caused the GW190521 event fall into the ghostly range.
The wave was caused by a collision between two huge black holes in a deep corner of space.
The new data reveals it’s unlikely the two events are linked based on the most favored models explaining GW190521, but Ford notes there’s still some work to be done before completely discounting the possibility they did see a black hole merger.
Smith says he wouldn’t call these black holes impossible, but the sizes of the pair do present a significant puzzle for astronomers to solve.
"If it wasn’t a binary black hole merger, it was a deeply unusual flaring event around a supermassive black hole," says Ford.
For that to occur, astronomers theorize the black holes must have existed in a cosmic mosh pit, where black holes constantly bash into each other.
One hypothesis is that black holes of this size, creatively named "intermediate mass black holes," are formed when two smaller black holes meet, dance and merge.
If black holes are in a mosh pit near an active galactic nucleus, it’s likely only a matter of time.
In these regions, she says, black holes would "play nice with each other" and more mergers would be seen.
"We don’t really know yet how the two black holes that collided formed," says Smith.
Details of the event, dubbed GW190521, were published in two prominent astrophysics journals on Wednesday, and they come from the LIGO/Virgo collaboration, a huge team of scientists studying gravitational waves detected by the dual Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory facilities in the US and the Virgo detector in Italy.
Scientists believe the black holes are involved in a hierarchical merging scheme, where lighter black holes come together to form more massive black holes.
So some time ago, when the universe was much younger, four black holes became two, then those two met, danced and became one.
The two black holes danced with each other for eons, performing a cosmic minuet, before eventually falling into each other.
But black holes can range in size from small to unfathomably huge.
Our current understanding suggests these types of black holes form if the exploding star is between around 65 and 135 times the mass of our sun.
The collision provides definitive evidence for a class of black holes long theorized to exist, but only observed indirectly in the past.
Black holes are often referred to as monstrous and gargantuan; cosmic colossi that lord over the rest of space.
The Milky Way, our home galaxy, contains a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, and a neighboring galaxy, Messier 87, was where researchers snatched an image of a supermassive black hole for the first time.
Upon colliding, they formed a bigger black hole with a mass 142 times greater than the sun, converting the leftover mass into energy and releasing it as gravitational waves.
Some of the smallest black holes we’ve detected contain about 10 times the mass of the sun and are usually referred to as "stellar black holes".
Right down the other end of the spectrum are supermassive black holes.
Two monster black holes met, danced and fell into each other.
And even if the black hole hypothesis is discounted, Ford and her colleagues did find something really weird for an active galactic nucleus.
Today, astronomers have announced it is officially the biggest collision ever detected, forming a black hole 150 times more massive than the sun.
Such a busy dance floor would be the perfect place for black holes to meet.
"We don’t really know yet how the two black holes that collided formed".
In June, the collaboration found a "mysterious object" — far too small to be a black hole and seemingly too large to be a neutron star.
Biggest black hole collision ever detected creates a cosmic monster https://t.co/JzHfgHYiQT— CNET News (@CNETNews) September 2, 2020