When Worlds Collide

Worlds colliding would be small potatoes compared to this.

Imagine a binary system consisting of two monstrous black holes locked in a tight orbital embrace. One of the beasts contains an astonishing 100 million times the mass of our Sun, outweighing the Milky Way’s central black hole by a factor of 25. But compared to its master, it’s a pipsqueak — a pathetic excuse for a black hole. The primary black hole contains 17 or 18 billion solar masses, making it the heaviest single object known to science.

Their mutual gravity twists space in a way that insures they’ll collide in about 10,000 years – a cosmic blink of an eye.

The collision will release powerful gravitational waves that will convulse the fabric of space-time, releasing more total energy for several minutes than all the stars in the visible universe combined.

Ah but is it true? There’s reasons to say that this scenario is not settled, yet. There’s more science (and observing) to be done.

OJ 287, located 3 billion light-years from Earth in Cancer, has been monitored since the 1890s. The observations show sporadic outbursts, but their frequency doesn’t match up perfectly with a 12-year orbit. “The time separation increased from the 1970s to the 80s and 90s,” says Tod Strohmayer (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center). “That appears to me to be opposite to what one would expect if the orbit were shrinking, in which case the period should show a regular decrease. In order to explain these variations,” says Strohmayer, “they need very fast precession of the orbit, and the only way to explain that in the context of their model is to invoke a problematically high black hole mass. I think they are over-interpreting the data.”

Maybe. But even the possibility of such a creature is – interesting. The amount of information that comes from two bodies simply orbiting each other is astonishing.

Explore posts in the same categories: Astronomy

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