A Pair of Black Holes Could Soon Collide and Destroy Their Galaxy

By Sarah Zhang on at

One black hole is not to be messed with, let alone two. Astronomers have discovered what appears to be two supermassive black holes just one light-year apart, setting up a collision so massive it could be release as much energy as 100 supernovae and destroy it's inside galaxy. Yep.

Thankfully, the black holes are far away in a remote galaxy called PG 1302-102. The collision itself, if astronomers have done the calculations right, will happen in the next million years. That's a long time for humans, but just a blink of an eye in cosmic time.

Astronomers are excited about the discovery because a pair of black holes could yield valuable information about theorised but never directly detected gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time that exist according to Einstein's theory of general relativity. If the two black holes collide, most of the released energy will be in the form of gravitational waves, literally bending the fabric of space-time.

But for now, the pair of black holes still need to be 100 per cent confirmed. When two black holes so far away are close to one another, astronomers on Earth can only see it as a particular flicker of light. Astronomers need to rule the flicker out as a statistical anomaly. Still, in the long history of the universe, black holes have almost certainly collided before. Destroying whole galaxies in one fell swoop is not just science fiction. [New York Times]

Top image: Artist impression of black hole binary. Credit: Santiago Lombeyda/Caltech Center for Data-Driven Discovery