“Did you feel that? What was it?”

Scientists think they might have explained the origin of a bizarre ripple in spacetime that swept through Earth on May 21, 2019, and has defied easy explanation ever since.

This disturbance in the very fabric of the universe, known as a gravitational wave, may have been produced by a type of cataclysmic merger between black holes that has never been seen before, potentially shedding light on the mysterious dynamics between these exotic objects, reports a new study.

Gravitational waves are generated by extreme cosmic phenomena, such as collisions between black holes or the explosive deaths of massive stars. Since 2015, scientists have been able to capture these incredibly subtle waves using sophisticated detectors, a breakthrough that has opened an entirely new window into the universe.

…The two black holes that merged to make this wave were both several dozen times the mass of the Sun, making this the biggest black hole union ever detected.

However, the short duration and unusual signature of the wave have sparked debate about the masses, spins, and orbits of the two black holes that sent these ripples into space. In other words, it’s not exactly clear just what kind of a merger it would take to make these weird waves.

I’ve been a science and sci-fi geek all my reading life. This is the stuff of dreams…and it’s reality we’re looking at. Even if it’s still early days when it comes to understanding the processes concerned.

Sound of two black holes colliding

With a nod to Zen students.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” [originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978]

Animation sheds light on black holes

Click on image for the animation

Black holes are dubbed “black” because their inescapable tug of gravity on light renders them invisible to the naked eye. Scientists can, however, look at the distorted spacetime around a black hole to determine its size and rotation. In many cases, black holes, also surround themselves in superheated clouds of spinning material that warps like a “carnival mirror” when viewed. In this new NASA animation, the US space agency demonstrated how the gravitational warping distorts our views of black holes.

Go full screen. It rocks!

Supermassive black holes emit gravity waves across galaxies

Australian astronomers say gravity waves — predicted by Albert Einstein and since confirmed by scientists — are revealing secrets of black holes. Every large galaxy is thought to have a supermassive black hole at its center but the phenomena have proved difficult to study by direct observation, they said.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to use information about gravitational waves to study another aspect of the universe — the growth of massive black holes,” study co-author Ramesh Bhat of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research reported.

Einstein had predicted gravitational waves, ripples in space-time generated by massive bodies changing speed or direction, like pairs of black holes orbiting each other.

Such events occur when galaxies merge and their central black holes are attracted to each other, astronomers said.

“When the black holes get close to meeting they emit gravitational waves at just the frequency that we should be able to detect,” Bhat said.

Astronomers have been searching for gravitational waves with a giant radio telescope in Australia, learning more about the behavior of supermassive black holes.

“The strength of the gravitational wave background depends on how often supermassive black holes spiral together and merge, how massive they are, and how far away they are,” Bhat said.

“Black holes are almost impossible to observe directly but armed with this powerful new tool we’re in for some exciting times in astronomy,” he said.

Exciting times guaranteed. Dark matter, black holes, gravity waves present enormous energy sources when we haven’t yet succeeded in harnessing anything more than the tiniest portion of the energy flowing this direction from our rather ordinary sun.

Reflect upon the fact that one hour of sunlight could be sufficient to power every electric device on Earth for a year. And why ain’t we working harder to get even partway there?