Scientists Have Developed a New Way to Know Where Heavy Black Holes Come From

Could there be a black hole nursery up there?
Fabienne Lang

Thanks to a team of gravitational wave researchers from the University of Birmingham, in the U.K., astronomers now have a new way to pinpoint where heavy black hole systems originate in the Universe.

Published in the Physical Review D on Thursday, the findings suggest that by detecting future multiple generations of black holes it would allow scientists to know where they originate. 


What is a black hole?

Black holes form after stars collapse and supernova explosions occur. They are hugely dense and measured by solar masses, such as the mass of our Sun. 

Stars usually can only form black holes with masses up to 45 solar masses. These systems then merge together and create graviational waves, which in turn are observed by the LIGO and Virgo detectors

However, heavier black holes of over 50 solar masses aren't as easily observable. Scientists call them 'next-generation black holes,' which are merged with their 'parent black holes' and which can now be observed with LIGO and Virgo. 

This is precisely what the researchers from the University of Birmingham have been successfully working on. 

Dr. Davide Gerosa, lead author of the research said: "Star clusters--groups of stars that are bound together by gravity--might act like black hole 'nurseries,' providing an ideal environment to grow generations of black holes."

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Scientists Have Developed a New Way to Know Where Heavy Black Holes Come From
The European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) observatory where the Virgo interferometer is situated. Source: Virgo 

When they merge, these black holes recoil - similar to a gun when the trigger is pulled - and these create gravitational waves.

Co-author of the study, Emanuele Berti from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., explained: "Gravitational wave observations provide an unprecedented opportunity to understand the astrophysical settings where black holes form and evolve."

"Gravitational-wave astronomy is revolutionizing our understanding of the Universe," continued Dr. Gerosa. "We are all waiting for upcoming results from LIGO and Virgo to put these and other astrophysical predictions to the test."