Scientists from the LIGO and Virgo scientific collaborations have released data regarding a black hole collision detected further than five billion light years from Earth, which resulted in both a larger black hole and ripples through space-time. Laser detectors in the United States and Italy detected the collision on July 29, 2017, but data has finally been checked and confirmed by the various institutions involved since that initial collection through a recent re-analysis of all the collected data by LIGO and Virgo from 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The collision took place between a black hole more than 50 times the mass of the Earth’s sun and another at least 34 times the mass of the sun. This collision created a new black hole more than 80 times the mass of the sun. After that reanalysis, this event is now the 11th event recorded resulting in the release of gravitational waves. Most of the other 10 were also collisions between black holes, but one was a collision of neutron stars.
But what are gravitational waves? They were predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but instrumentation available to properly measure them was decades away from construction when he first considered them. They are best described as ripples or waves in the very fabric of space-time created by massive astronomical chaos events – such as black holes colliding.
They are measured due to the fact the waves move at the speed of light due to accelerating masses. The LIGO and Virgo sites fire lasers into long tunnels shaped like the letter L. These waves traveling through space-time reach the lasers and disrupt the light. Such measurements can help scientists better understand the dramatic nature of neutron stars, which release strange radiation when they are destroyed. Some of that radiation produces rare elements like gold.
When the laser labs in the United States began their research in September 2015, they almost instantly discovered a black hole merger on September 14 of that same year. That discovery earned the team a Nobel Prize. Before the celebration of that initial discovery could be had, however, the team became bombarded with similar signals alerting them to more collisions and more gravitational waves through space-time.
As of this moment, though, the labs are not detecting anything. During data reanalysis, the labs are undergoing upgrades. They should be back running by spring of 2019. According to a report by the BBC, the labs will be able to see twice the distance, which could result in as much as eight times the rate of previous detection – meaning gravitational wave detection could become a daily occurrence.