Study: Universe is teeming with black holes

Scientists say a new gravitational wave model will help astronomers better anticipate and analyze the next set of black hole collisions.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Universe is teeming with black holes
New research suggests supermassive black holes aren't all that rare in some parts of the universe, and that pairs of massive black holes can be expected to generate a large number of detectable gravitational wave events in the near future. Photo by NASA/UPI | License Photo

ROCHESTER, N.Y., June 22 (UPI) -- If astronomers are right, the next generation of gravitational wave detectors are going to be very busy.

According to a new survey of all the matter in the universe, the cosmos is teeming with black holes. And lots of black holes mean lots of black hole mergers -- the cosmic collisions that generate gravitational waves.


The new model of the universe's matter was created by a team of scientists from Europe and the United States. Researchers say it's the most complete model yet compiled. Its credibility is bolstered by the fact that it predicted the collision that produced the space-time shock waves recently measured by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.

The types of binary black holes that produced the waves detected by LIGO aren't like most black holes. They're especially massive, formed from ancient stars that burn a purer form of hydrogen. The stars that birthed these black holes upon their deaths were, at their peak, 40 to 60 times more massive than our sun.

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While such massive pairs of black holes aren't common in the modern universe, there are plenty in some distant regions of the universe.


"These rare regions act like factories for building identifiable pairs of black holes," Richard O'Shaughnessy, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in a news release.

The new model -- detailed in the journal Nature -- has yielded a number of insights into the likely nature of these supermassive black holes. Simulations suggest their spin rates are constant and their orbits remain on a single plane. The kickback produced by their wave-inducing collisions isn't enough to augment their positioning, but it is large enough to influence the axes of smaller black holes.

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Researchers say their model is already being used by several other gravitational wave research projects, and will help astronomers better anticipate and analyze the next black hole collision -- of which the model suggests there will be several.

"LIGO is not going to see 1,000 black holes like these each year, but many of them will be even better and more exciting because we will have a better instrument -- better glasses to view them with and better techniques," O'Shaughnessy said.

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