The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. made the detection on January 4 this year, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened.
The latest detection journeyed to earth across 3 billion light-years, ripples cast off when a pair of black holes about 31.2 and 19.4 times as massive as our own sun orbited each other before slamming together at a significant fraction of the speed of light to form a new black hole roughly 49 times as massive as our sun. "It is remarkable that humans can put together a story, and test it, for such odd and extreme events that took place billions of years ago and billions of light-years distant from us". In the wake of the those improvements, the second observation run for LIGO began on 30 November 2016-with the newly announced discovery coming just over one month later.
Two L-shaped LIGO detectors, one in Washington state and the other in Louisiana, check for these distortions.
Still, at a distance of 1.3 billion light-years, by the time those ripples washed over Earth they'd distorted space on a distance of about a proton.
The observations mark the third occasion that scientists have spotted gravitational waves- the compression and stretching of space itself that was first predicted by Einstein.
"These are collisions that produce more power than is radiated as light by all the stars and galaxies in the universe at any given time", said a LIGO statement.
This merger between a binary pair of black holes happened around 3 billion light-years away-much farther than the first two finds (which lay around 1.3 and 1.4 billion light-years from us, respectively). So if the spins of the two merging black holes point in the same direction as the orbital spin, some of the orbital angular momentum must be discarded to meet this criterion before the merger can occur.
It is possible that one of the black holes had a misaligned spin, which is to say that it was not spinning in the same direction as its overall spiral orbit.
Both of these black holes were much more massive than our sun.
When LIGO gets a hit, the gravitational wave makes a characteristic signal that scientists' call a "chirp" because of the sound it makes once translated into a format human ears can hear.
As with the earlier detections, the new event (GW170104) showed up as a series of curves that came to briefly dominate the noise in LIGO's two detectors for a few seconds before fading back into the background.
Lasers sent down the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Louisiana
However, according to Einstein's theory, gravitational waves must remain undispersed when travelling through the fabric of space-time. The black hole that resulted from the merger had a mass of 48.7 times that of the Sun.
Astronomers have since been struggling mightily to understand how black holes (which, for the most part, are remnants of collapsed stars) can wind up so close to each other, without having been close enough to have merged during their stellar lifetimes.
"We now have wonderful mass measurements, and are starting to uncover details about the spins of these black holes, which could reveal hints about how they formed".
In the other model, the black holes come together later in life within crowded stellar clusters. The latest detection provides clues that at least one of the black holes are spinning non-aligned when compared to that direction of orbital motion - something that hasn't been observed before. The second theory suggests that the black holes form independently within dense clusters of stars.
The senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said LIGO Livingston and LIGO Hanover, in Washington state, both detected the waves on January 4. By combining results from multiple LIGO events, more precise constraints on deviations from the predictions of Einstein's theory were obtained.
And once again, Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity held up. Virgo and the LIGO Scientific Community work together in many areas and have an agreement on the exchange of data. Nevertheless, he says, Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that space can expand, contract, or vibrate, thereby distorting the medium in which we all live.
"In order to figure out which is the dominant case, we're probably going to need hundreds of these observations, so hopefully when the sensitivity improves we'll start seeing these things all the time", said Ransom in an interview.
In the meantime, LIGO is set to wrap up its current observing run in late summer - right around the time that the European Virgo detector is set to go online.
These ripples in space-time can only be detected by powerful instruments.
"We have further confirmation of the existence of stellar-mass black holes that are larger than 20 solar masses - objects we didn't know existed before LIGO detected them", David Shoemaker said in a news release about the discovery. Further, the LIGO team hopes that the better sensitivity will open up the observational menu well beyond the sphere of black-hole mergers, to include events such as the merger of binary neutron stars.
For example, LIGO has a good chance of spotting its first neutron star merger during the third run, Landry said.
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