Dueling Black Holes

One can hardly resist writing about the good news that physicists found yet another remarkable example of a binary black hole. This is even more astounding as black holes are invisible to us.

We are able to detect them because when they make head-on collisions they shake spacetime over vast distances in every direction. This is similar to what happens when a large explosion goes off on Earth it shakes the ground over a large radius from the impact center.

The collision of the black holes results in a single, larger black hole with a mass equal to the sum of the two masses of the two smaller black holes minus a large bit of mass that was converted into the energy that fueled the shaking of spacetime.

These cataclysmic cosmic events have been happening since the dawn of human existence, but it is only in the past year that we have built observatories sensitive enough to detect the Earth actually, physically shaking as a result of this duel between two black holes in a another galaxy.

This most recent discovery of a coalescing black hole binary is especially interesting as three different observatories detected the signal simultaneously: two “LIGO” detectors in the U. S. and one brand new “Virgo” detector in Italy. The number three is special as the third detector enabled the precious triangulation to tell astronomers the approximate origin of the signal.

This discovery of the "ringing" of spacetime is arguably one of the best to come out in the past 100 years, which is saying a lot. Let us all keep our eyes and ears open for the Nobel Prize in Physics announcement coming out next week.

Dr. Brenda Frye

About Dr. Brenda Frye

Brenda L. Frye is an observational cosmologist at the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory, University of Arizona. She earned her Ph. D. in Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, assisted by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Her thesis work involved measuring the concentration of the total mass of visible plus dark matter in the fields of massive galaxy clusters, a program requiring the use of some of the largest telescopes in the world.

Moving a mile from her Ph. D. institution, she assumed a postdoctoral position with the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under the direction of Professor Saul Permutter.

She then treked across the country to take a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Princeton Council on Sciences and Technology Fellowship both at Princeton University.

Moving further east, she became a Lecturer in Physics at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where a number of European collaborations were formed.

From there she crossed back across the pond to the west coast of the U. S. to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco.

Her travels have now landed her at her Alma Mater in Tucson, where she teaches and does research. The aims of her research continue to be to use gravitational telescopes in space as 'lenses' to study the properties of dark matter and those of distant galaxies back to when the universe was <900 million years old.

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