Science

Gravitational waves reveal lightest black hole ever observed

Gravitational waves reveal lightest black hole ever observed”

An worldwide team of scientists have recently discovered what is suspected to be a new astronomical object. Weighing in at 2.6 times the mass of the Sun, the object falls into a hypothetical "mass gap", a desert between the heaviest neutron star and the lightest black hole that some theories predict-suggesting the gap doesn't exist and that those theories need to be amended.

The cosmic merger described in the study, an event dubbed GW190814, resulted in a final black hole about 25 times the mass of the sun (some of the merged mass was converted to a blast of energy in the form of gravitational waves).

His team, working internationally for the LIGO-Virgo Scientific Collaboration, uses enormous laser detectors - entire kilometres in length - which have the capacity to recognise miniscule ripples in space-time, caused by the collision of objects in space.

Charlie Hoy, a PhD student from Cardiff University, UK, involved in the study, said the new discovery would transform our understanding. Speaking to BBC News, he said: "We can't rule out any possibilities". "I've been in LIGO for just over 10 years now, and this is certainly one of the most exciting events we've seen". Well, an object of 2.6 solar masses sits in a sort of no man's land between the smallest mass of a black hole (roughly five solar masses, as observed), and the upper range of a neutron star -the ultra-dense burned-out husk of a previously massive star - which is just shy of 2.4 solar masses.

Originally published June 23, 2020 by the global LIGO-Virgo collaboration.

Gravitational waves form when massive objects distort spacetime surrounding them and send ripples out across the universe.

The object in question, whose mass is about 2.6 times that of the sun, was in fact discovered a year ago via the Virgo and LIGO observatories when it merged with a black hole of some 23 solar masses, with the find being reported in a recently published paper.

And they have detected evidence of neutron stars, smaller stars that explode in supernovas and leave behind dense, dead remnants of stars.

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In theory, black holes could be lighter than five suns. In between the two is a "mass gap" where, for uncertain reasons, no compact objects seemed to form.

How will researchers ever know if the mystery object was a neutron star or a black hole?

Specifically, they can work out the mass of each object in the collision and tell what they were.

"It is a challenge for us to determine what this is", he told BBC News.

"Mergers of a mixed nature - black holes and neutron stars - have been predicted for decades, but this compact object in the mass gap is a complete surprise". In the latter case, this would mean it is the lightest black hole ever detected. Secondly, if the collision involved two black holes, it likely would have not shone with any light. His ideas are receiving increased attention following the new discovery. If it is a neutron star, then our traditional model of neutron stars must be somewhat wrong.

When the most massive stars die, they collapse under their own gravity and leave behind black holes. Since LIGO first sensed such gravitational waves in 2015, physicists have spotted dozens of mergers. When one mass is much larger than the other, "the smaller neutron star can be eaten in one bite".

Reference: Cho, Adrian. "A weight limit emerges for neutron stars". It might be a more exotic object known as a quark star. For neutron stars, the progenitor stars are around 8 to 30 times the mass of the Sun; they blow off most of their mass before they die, and the cores collapse down to objects of around 1.4 solar masses.

Gravitational waves are emitted whenever an asymmetric object accelerates, with the strongest sources of detectable gravitational waves being from the collision of neutron stars and black holes.



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