New research has found two black holes in the distant cosmos may have created a flare of light which beamed through the universe. The research is groundbreaking, as black holes, as the name suggests, are completely void of light.

When black holes merge, they begin to orbit one another, moving towards each other before merging in one of the most powerful events known to scientists.

When they merge, they create ripples in spacetime, known as gravitational waves.

However, observations from the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2019 found one merger created a huge blast of light.

Matthew Graham, of the California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech) Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), said the flare most likely came from a supermassive black hole merger, but the researchers cannot be sure.

He said: “This supermassive black hole was burbling along for years before this more abrupt flare.

“The flare occurred on the right timescale, and in the right location, to be coincident with the gravitational-wave event.

“In our study, we conclude that the flare is likely the result of a black hole merger, but we cannot completely rule out other possibilities.”

Black holes are surrounded by a vast layer of gas and dust, known as an accretion disk.

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These disks also help draw black holes together, and the reaction of the gas and dust under the immense pressure of a black hole merger help to create a “kick” of light, according to the research published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Dr Nicholas Ross, project collaborator and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, said: “This result, the optical flash resulting from two black holes colliding and crushing the gas around them, is so exciting.

“As a wee kid, I was hooked by the idea of black holes and now, as a big kid, the fact that we have ‘seen’ as well as ‘heard’ these black hole mergers, is an amazing discovery that has deep implications for astrophysics.”

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Daniel Stern, coauthor of the new study and an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is a division of Caltech, said: “This detection is extremely exciting.

“There’s a lot we can learn about these two merging black holes and the environment they were in based on this signal that they sort of inadvertently created.

“So the detection by ZTF, coupled with what we can learn from the gravitational waves, opens up a new avenue to study both black hole mergers and these disks around supermassive black holes.”



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