back to article A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... a pair of black holes coalesced resulting in largest gravitational wave we've seen

The latest gravitational wave event, announced by astrophysicists today, is a particularly good 'un. Not only is it the largest signal detected yet, it's the first time an intermediate-sized black hole has ever been spotted. Code-named GW190521, the wave was picked up by the LIGO and Virgo detectors on May 21, 2019. The blip …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Pint

    One heck of a blip!

    The blip, which resembled four squiggles, lasted less than one-tenth of a second, and was created when two black holes with 66 and 85 solar masses smashed into one another

    Everytime they announce a new find I'm amazed that they can tell so much from apparently so little data.

    Beers all round.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: One heck of a blip!

      > the remaining nine solar masses were converted into energy

      This for me was 'one heck of a blip'

      [Icon - some way to go still]

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: One heck of a blip!

        Mind boggling, the biggest conversion we've managed so far is measured in grams.

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: One heck of a blip!

          For perspective, see this ("what if" article) . And that event was even bigger.

      2. swm Silver badge

        Re: One heck of a blip!

        I remember one of the first black hole collisions resulted in 3 solar masses converted to gravitational waves. If the black holes were spinning before the collision then the resulting black hole should be kicked "sideways" a small fraction of the speed of light. I wonder if this happened in this case.

  2. Conundrum1885

    Not a "Fwoop"

    More like a FwoKABOOOMp

    The energy involved is enough to literally warp the mind as well as the fabric of spacetime.

    If you thought Tsar Bomba was big, think again.

    On the flip side, if we were within maybe a few hundred light years the resulting mayhem would not be a major concern as

    everything biological on this planet would be converted into chunky salsa, though the fabric of the planet might survive the extinction

    would likely be worse than the Ordovician.

    Gamma ray burst would actually do less damage as it would merely obliterate everything on the side of the planet facing it, assuming

    that deep sea life survived the resultant firestorm then in a few hundred million years life would re-emerge onto land.

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Not a "Fwoop"

      Can I get that as a screensaver?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not a "Fwoop"

      > On the flip side, if we were within maybe a few hundred light years the resulting mayhem would not be a major concern as everything biological on this planet would be converted into chunky salsa, though the fabric of the planet might survive the extinction would likely be worse than the Ordovician.

      Is there a physicist in the house? Does the 9 solar masses' worth of energy mostly depart in the form of EM radiation (and therefore cooks everything nearby) or does it produce the gravity wave - which presumably is relatively harmless even to nearby systems?

      1. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Not a "Fwoop"

        Gravitational waves. BH-BH mergers are electromagnetically dark, because long before they merge the BHs will have eaten their accretion disks, if they had any. Or rather: they are expected to be electromagnetically dark, and observations seem to confirm that they are.

        I don't know how close you can be (or how close something large can be) to something like this before the tidal stresses as the waves pass become bad however.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Not a "Fwoop"

        > Does the 9 solar masses' worth of energy mostly depart in the form of EM radiation

        Yep mostly gamma rays, lots and lots of gamma rays

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Not a "Fwoop"

        When the details of the first LIGO merger detection was published I sat down and worked out what the wavelength of the gravitational wave would have been at a distance of one light year from the merger. It was something on the order of a metre.

        I still can't visualise the effect a space-time compression wave would have on objects at that scale (eg a human body), when it would pass through in just three nanoseconds. Would it be enough to overcome molecular bonds? Probably not. Could it shatter bones or turn flesh to jelly? I really don't know. Would the shear waves dump heat into the object? Quite possibly. Would I want to observe the event from that distance? No.

        1. Eclectic Man Bronze badge

          Re: Not a "Fwoop"

          Did you manage to calculate the amplitude of the gravitational wave at one lightyear? It would surely be the amplitude that hurts, combined with the wavelength?

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Not a "Fwoop"

            For a compression wave the amplitude is necessarily less than the wavelength. My back-of-a-fag-packet calculation was only to get the order of magnitude, not a more accurate figure.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Joke

    Is God a programmer?

    I'm thinking that black hole mergers are like integer overflows being reported (ERROR: INT512 overflow). The universe is like an app on your phone, it works great most of the time but every now and then something weird happens ... and it will keep happening until the battery needs replacing. But you can't do that these days, you need to buy a new phone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is God a programmer?

      Every geek knows that black holes themselves are essentially divide-by-zero errors.

      (God's math is beyond human understanding, and always will be.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is God a programmer?

        black holes themselves are essentially divide-by-zero errors

        Pffft! Divide-by-zero is the easy bit. It's when it gets to divide-by-infinity that it gets really messy...

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Happy

        Yeah, but that doesn't mean we should stop studying it.

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Is God a programmer?

        >Every geek knows that black holes themselves are essentially divide-by-zero errors.

        The singularity at the center of the BH is the divide by zero

        The black hole is the try/catch block around the singularity to stop you hitting the error

  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. DwarfPants
      Coat

      Re: How small can you go?

      Err, I recognize the words but not the order they are in, and I am pretty sure the problem is at my end. ERROR: INT512 overflow

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How small can you go?

        Err, I recognize the words but not the order they are in

        I'm sure it makes perfect sense in the AC's head, so maybe we should just tiptoe quietly away and leave him to it in his own little universe...

      2. Graham Cunningham

        Re: How small can you go?

        I don't think black holes are integers, I'm pretty sure they are floating points...

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: How small can you go?

          Excellent phraseology, have a ======>

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How small can you go?

          No 2F, it wouldn't be resonance if it wasn't a harmonic. But then you wouldn't have spin if you had perfect integer resonance.

        3. Sanguma Bronze badge

          Re: How small can you go? Integers and Floating Points

          The singularity is an integer, afak, while the event horizon is floating point. That's why BHs are so d*(%^ hard to understand - there's an infinity between a floating point and the nearest integer.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: How small can you go?

      I seem to recall reading that a black hole is a singularity, a point in space-time.

      It's only the event horizon that gives it size.

      1. Eclectic Man Bronze badge

        Re: How small can you go?

        SCIENCE ALERT:

        Actually black holes cannot be point singularities. As the star, disk or blob of matter gets smaller under gravitation, it spins faster. The limit on this spinning is the speed of light (according to current theory). The matter becomes a torus of increasing density not quite travelling at the speed of light around the centre of mass. However, the event horizon (the boundary between 'space-time as we understand it' and where the 'escape velocity' becomes the speed of light) can be an oblate spheroid.

        (Any astro-physicist feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

        1. DS999

          Re: How small can you go?

          We don't know that, because without a working theory of quantum gravity we don't know what's inside the event horizon of a black hole. If the collapse of matter beyond neutron/quark density can't be stopped there's no way to prove that it doesn't become a point singularity. The concept of spin/rotation may be meaningless for such an object, just as the concept of diameter would be.

          I'm not sure what you suggest applies anyway. The faster matter travels the more massive it is, hence more energy is required to further increase its speed. So if a spinning object collapses, it can't reach a point where its outside edge is traveling faster than light. As it collapses and the edge nears the speed of light some of its rotational energy would be converted into increased mass, acting as a natural brake and allowing its collapse to continue without the speed at the outside edge ever quite reaching the speed of light.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How small can you go?

            DS999, take a short walk with me.

            1) Measure the position of an electron.

            2) Measure it again, it has moved.

            3) It is constantly interacting with the matter around it, and there is no meaningful difference between those interactions that measure, and those that don't, so it is *always* moving, not just when its measured.

            First step takes you away from Schrodinger model of matter. This is the hardest step to make for physicists and the easiest to make for non-physicists.

            4) Consider a stationary electron, it does move from 3), yet the net motion is zero because it is stationary. So any motion is oscillatory, it returns to the same place, or sum of those motions cancels out.

            5) Those motions are tracing out its size. If it moved further, it would be bigger. So now the electron's size comes from its motion, not some intrinsic property. i.e. matter size/scale is from its motion, and by implication the scale of space comes from that motion.

            6) If the electron has mass, and momentum, then it accelerates and decelerates, but the electron's detected position has it jumping around all over the place, in no way can that point have mass. Bugger, we have lost mass as a property. i.e. the electron doesn't have mass as some intrinsic property.

            7) We've opened Pandoras box, and lost size and mass, but on the plus side, we have an electron moving in an oscillatory fashion, so we have energy independent of motion. One of the missing properties of mass, we have already found.

            8) Also the electron is moving, so we have a field that is moving. So now we have a field over which light can move, albeit with a confusing geometry.

            9) If the electron moved twice as far in the Y axis as the X axis, then so would our light. We've lost speed of light constancy, it's no longer moving the same speed in all directions, its moving twice as fast in the Y axis. But then again, if we measure it with matter, then so is the matter twice as stretched in the Y axis, so we have it back again. The speed of light isn't a constant, we just measure it that way.

            10) If the electron in our observed matter is moving, then it is also moving in the detector. We are *not* really measuring the position of the electron, we are detecting the difference between the two, the detector and the electron.

            11) Detect with detector D1, electron E1 and electron E2 and they have the same properties, so their motion is the same with respect to those properties, i.e. its a resonant system

            12) This is true even if E1 and E2 are at either end of the universe. So electric force must propagate infinitely fast. All paths from E1 through space must take zero time for all to arrive at E2 at the same time and be resonant.

            13) So the underlying electric force propagates infinitely fast, and the electric force we make with electrons is an oscillatory force over the same field that our light moves over. So now we have a reason why electric force propagates at the speed of light.

            OK, so we've broken a bunch of things, we're missing some properties of mass in this case gravity. But I promised a short walk, and this is enough.

            "The faster matter travels the more massive it is, hence more energy is required to further increase its speed."

            14) You're pushing matter with an *oscillating* force from 13, you cannot push it faster than 1 wavelength per resonant oscillation with that force. It's harder to push not more 'mass'-ive.

            "As it collapses and the edge nears the speed of light some of its rotational energy would be converted into increased mass, acting as a natural brake"

            15) Yeh, there's a limit to rotation in a resonant universe too, if you're stuck at 1F and you have a two axis oscillation with ~zero component in the third axis, that's as fast as it will go, beyond that you have to go to the 2 x resonance.

            " we don't know what's inside the event horizon of a black hole"

            Look around ya. We have an oscillating resonant universe at some 'frequency 'F'', F is just a number, 2F is just a number. How would you tell the difference between F and 2F if you were inside?

            You can measure the electron, now oscillating 2x faster, but you're comparing it to a detector that's oscillating 2x faster.

            You can measure the speed of light, now 2x compressed, but your matter is also 2x compressed.

            So what's inside a black hole? Well from my window, it looks like rain today.

            1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: How small can you go?

              Mr. Crankenstein, is it you?

        2. tfb Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: How small can you go?

          It is true that singularities probably are not points. If there is angular momentum (which there always is, really) then the solution you get is Kerr, not Schwarzschild, and the Kerr solution has singularities which are rings.

          I think almost no-one thinks singularities actually happen, of course, since GR will fail before that point.

          1. DS999

            Re: How small can you go?

            If there aren't singularities, what stops the collapse? There would have to be a smaller unit of matter than quarks, with its own field/force, to prevent the collapse, at least as far as GR is concerned.

            I could see QM and the uncertainty principle having some play here. The smallest unit of measurement is the Planck length, so maybe it all collapses to a "ball" 10^-42m in size, and it can't "get to zero" because particles are popping into and out of existence around it.

            Another possibility is that it does collapse into a singularity, but not in the lifetime of the universe outside the event horizon, avoiding the issue that way.

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: How small can you go?

              Without a theory of quantum gravity we just can't say.

              However many people (including me) regard things like singularities as a sign of the clear failure of a theory. Physicists (well, this physicist) have a clear notion that the world is a smooth place in a sense that can be made rigorous (but often is not): all our equations for modelling nature are differential equations, and they require things to be sufficiently differentiable – sufficiently smooth in other words. In fact I think it's possible to argue that things should not only be differentiable enough, but in fact analytic: everything should not only be infinitely differentiable but the approximation to it you can construct by differentiating it an infinite number of times (it's Taylor series) should converge to it in the neighbourhood of any point. The reason for thinking this – the reason I think it – is that I think these approximation techniques correspond to the measurements we can make.

              And the singularities that we get in black holes are curvature singularities: they're failures of differentiability. Well, GR is a theory made of differential equations, so what it's doing is predicting its own failure as a theory, rescued only by the singularities,we hope, not being in anyone's past, but even this is not clearly true (and is false in some situations, which may be artificial though). And although the singularity theorems in GR don't say what sort of singularities they predict, I think everyone assumes they also will be curvature singularities. So in this sense GR is pretty clearly failing, and we need some theory which actually makes useful predictions: either a theory made of differential equations where things remain smooth enough, or some other kind of theory.

    3. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: How small can you go?

      i.e. I'm claiming that the gravitational constant, isn't a constant and that motion reduces its value.

      You can claim what you like. That doesn't make it correct. In this case it very clearly does make you a crank.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How small can you go?

        " In this case it very clearly does make you a crank."

        Sure, yeh, don't go look. Nothing to see there. Gravitation Constant is really a constant, and you won't find it changes with spin, motion, or temperature and no reason to go look. No reason to question the core assumption that it is a constant.

        So don't go look here at all, in fact this is heresy, your eyes will burn if you go look for this effect:

        Take two planets, planet A and planet B

        Both are homogeneous, equal in size, shape, density, material, temperature, the local field, motion, magnetism, *everything* is identical.

        The gravitational constant between A and B will be G1.

        Now move A with respect to B, the motion doesn't need to be linear velocity, it could be spin, A spins more or less than B, it can be heat, A is hotter than B, it can be A orbiting B. You can mess with the magnetic field on one vs the other. Any motion of any type will do.

        The gravitational constant between A' and B' will now be G2.

        With G2< G1

        i.e. I'm claiming that the gravitational constant, isn't a constant and that motion reduces its value.

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: How small can you go?

          Sure, yeh, don't go look. Nothing to see there. Gravitation Constant is really a constant, and you won't find it changes with spin, motion, or temperature and no reason to go look. No reason to question the core assumption that it is a constant.

          Because we don't ever make predictions about the behaviour of gravitating systems based on G being a constant and then check them against what actually happens. And then develop theories, also assuming G is a constant (or, really, based on G being a fudge factor because we did not understand that the proper units of mass are seconds and actually not really existing at all), which accurately predict tiny discrepancies in the earlier theories. No, of course we don't do that: of course we haven't spend hundreds of fucking years testing these theories, which keep passing their tests, despite us wanting them to fail. No, we certainly don't do any of those things.

          And of course someone posting anonymously in some comments section can see through this giant charade. And of course that person has to post anonymously because the scientific illuminati conspiracy suppress all dissent (can it be coincidence that Einstein, that arch prince of the AISB, was Jewish?). Of course you are cleverer than Newton, than Einstein, than Noether and Dirac.

          Of course you are.

          1. swm Silver badge

            Re: How small can you go?

            There is frame dragging around a rotating object. The GPS satellites have to correct for this.

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: How small can you go?

              Frame-dragging does happen, yes (or, to be fussy, GR predicts it, and there is sone experimental evidence I think). But it does not involve a change in G – obviously, since it's predicted by GR and G is a constant in GR. GPS satellites, while they do need to account for GR effects, don't need to account fir frame-dragging I believe, which is a very tiny effect around the Earth.

    4. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: How small can you go?

      In resonant electric model

      And there's the giveaway: our anonymous cowardly friend is an Electric Universe nutter.

      They always crawl out of the woodwork for articles like this. Every. Fucking. Time.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: How small can you go?

        If the universe is electric, where's the meter and who pays the bill?

        1. DS999
          Trollface

          Re: How small can you go?

          who pays the bill?

          I thought maybe they sent it to my mom last winter, but it turned out there something wrong with her AC compressor so it was running constantly and fighting the furnace.

      2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: How small can you go?

        I web-searched "Electric Universe". Sadly I got results.

  5. JDX Gold badge

    Gravitational waves?

    I'm years out date on this - have gravitation waves now actually been confirmed and are routinely measurable, or is this shorthand for some other effect?

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Gravitational waves?

      We have direct observations of gravitational waves, yes. The first such detection was 14th September 2015 although it was not announced until February 2016.

      For quite a long time before that there have been good indirect detections of gravitational waves, notably in the Hulse-Taylor binary, but the first direct detection was GW150914.

    2. gecho

      Re: Gravitational waves?

      Interesting video on the observatory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iphcyNWFD10 The variation they are measuring is 1/10,000 the width of a proton.

      1. Eclectic Man Bronze badge

        Re: Gravitational waves?

        @gecho

        Excellent video, thanks for the link.

        I do wonder what is in the first aid kit tied up with string. After all he said a 1 MegaWatt laser would vaporise you, so a sticking plaster ain't gonna cut it really.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Gravitational waves?

          "After all he said a 1 MegaWatt laser would vaporise you"

          Not quite true. It'll vaporise whatever happened to be in the beam path for the width of the beam

          You know those cartoon blaster holes in people's heads?

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Gravitational waves?

        >measuring is 1/10,000 the width of a proton.

        Metric or Imperial protons ?

        What's that in linguine ?

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Gravitational waves?

          "What's that in linguine ?"

          The chef couldn't find it so we don't really know.

    3. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: Gravitational waves?

      I'm aware that gravitational waves have been shown to exist, what puzzles me is this:

      Won't any oscillating mass produce a gravitational wave? Isn't the earth sending out gravitational waves strongly across it's orbital plane, with a frequency of one cycle per year?

      Can we not detect gravitational waves from other celestial objects in cyclical motion? Are these the same kind of waves as those produced by the collision of black holes? Does the destruction of black holes just generate higher frequencies and more radiated power?

      1. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Gravitational waves?

        Yes, the Earth-Sun system does radiate: the total power is about 200W (compare this with the power output of the Sun which is about 3 times 10^26 W) There is no real chance of detecting such a tiny power output. The reason we need to look for very massive objects in very close orbits is because only in those cases does the power radiated become large enough to detect. That's because gravity is an absurdly weak force.

  6. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    A long way to go

    Cheers and a pint for the boffins (to be consumed at a reasonable distance from LIGO so the bubbles and burps don't affect their measurements.

    They've nailed another of the panoply of black hole sizes. Still, for those who speculate that galactic center black holes resulted from an iteration of mergers, this is a baby step. But keep observing because - science.

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Talk about second class post!

    A 100 millisecond message delivered after seven billion years? Even my local postal service does better.

    But seriously, this just goes to show how difficult it is to make scientific sense of the universe. There could even be mechanisms we've not yet seen for the first time that could entirely change our views of physics. More power then to the astronomers. I'd love to have a job like that.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Talk about second class post!

      My postal service would break it if they didn't lose it first, then try to blame me for not responding to the message they didn't send.

    2. tfb Silver badge

      Re: Talk about second class post!

      A 100 millisecond message delivered after seven billion years? Even my local postal service does better.

      If your post office does better they have a time machine! Tell me who they are because I want one too!

      (This is meant to be light-hearted, I'm not sniping at you.)

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