Earlier this year, we reported on an inevitable slow-motion collision of two distant black holes that could end in an epic, galaxy-destroying explosion violent enough to send ripples through the space-time fabric of the universe. Now, new research indicates those cosmic fireworks could be visible much sooner than previously expected.
The black holes we’re dealing with are in the Virgo constellation billions of light-years away from Earth, so there’s little need to worry that we’ll be hit by any galactic shrapnel. Between here and there are billions of galaxies floating around the universe, so it’s really not so shocking that two of them might drift up into each other’s business every now and then.
Keep in mind that it’s believed most galaxies have powerful black holes at their center, slowly swallowing up everything that comes within their considerable grasp. These two galaxies and their central black holes are now being observed spiraling around each other at the relatively small distance of just one light-week. According to a release from Columbia University, the closest previously confirmed black hole pair is 20 light years apart.
Astronomers at Columbia ran some calculations on the pair and predict that a very buzzworthy mashup will occur in just 100,000 years, significantly sooner than the million or so years from now previously predicted for the crash.
“This is the closest we’ve come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision,” said Columbia’s Zoltan Haiman, senior author of a study published in the journal Nature. “Watching this process reach its culmination can tell us whether black holes and galaxies grow at the same rate, and ultimately test a fundamental property of space-time: its ability to carry vibrations called gravitational waves, produced in the last, most violent, stage of the merger.”
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SOURCE: Cnet, Eric Mack