Black hole blast sends biggest ever energy wave to Earth

The blast is the biggest recorded of its kind. Credit: PA Media

A “massive gravitational wave source” from two black holes merging produced a blast equal to the energy of eight suns and sent shockwaves through the universe.

Teams from the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory (Ligo) in America, and the Virgo detector in Italy, have released a paper on the cosmic phenomena.

The gravitational wave detectors picked up the signal, which came from two black holes merging.

The first black hole was around 85 times greater than the mass of the Sun, and the second around 66 times.

When the two black holes collided a massive burst of energy was released.

The merger created an even more massive black hole, of about 142 solar masses.

This is the first ever image of a black hole. Credit: EHT

The final 142-solar-mass black hole produced by the merger lies within an intermediate mass range between stellar-mass and supermassive black holes — the first of its kind ever detected.

The two black holes that produced the final black hole also seem to be unique in their size.

They’re so massive that scientists suspect one or both of them may not have formed from a collapsing star, as most stellar-mass black holes do.

Scientists studying the wave believe the source is around 17 billion light years away from the Earth, making it one of the furthest away waves detected so far.

The first such gravitational waves were detected in 2015.

The signal, detected on May 21, has been labelled GW190521.

Scientists from the University of Glasgow assisted with the data analysis process, and Daniel Williams, from the Physics and Astronomy Department, said: “Gravitational wave astronomy continues to help us answer questions about how our universe works, as well as present us with exciting new problems to solve.

“This detection gives us a fascinating first look at the physics of intermediate-mass black holes, and opens up the opportunity for future detections to solve the mystery of just how they are formed.”

He said that, given the size of the black holes before they merged, they could have already been the products of previous mergers.

The blast was eight times larger than the Sun Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

He added: “It’s also possible that black holes of this size might have been formed by stripping gas from other nearby stars to add to their own mass before they collided with each other.

“We’re very much looking forward to finding more pieces of this puzzle in future detections.”

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research, said: “One of the lessons we’ve learned since the first Ligo observing run is the importance of being able to pause occasionally to upgrade the instruments and improve their sensitivity.

“It translates into more detections, an improved rate of detections, and also detections of individual events made at higher sensitivities.

"That enables detections like this one, where the very low frequency of the signal might well have been impossible to pick out of the background noise without our improvements.

“It’s an exciting preview of the kinds of science we can look forward to as we continue to develop the new field of gravitational wave astronomy.”