We Now Have The First Concrete Proof Of Black Holes

by Sean Levinson
Paramount Pictures

Scientists obtained evidence of two black holes merging, proving a key tenet of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

In 1915, Albert Einstein proposed the gravity of large objects in space can disrupt the fabric of the universe, similar to the way a bowling ball changes the shape of a trampoline while rolling on top of it, according to The Washington Post.

Such a disturbance produces ripples in gravity, or gravitational waves, and these waves are among the only detectable evidence of black holes.

Last September, a team of scientists reportedly confirmed the existence of gravitational waves for the first time by recording the sound of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light-years away.

The signal was picked up by a pair of L-shaped antennas located in Washington state and Louisiana called the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory).

Each location shoots a laser beam down two tubes about 2.5 miles long. At the bottom, the two beams bounce off mirrors, sending them back to their starting points.

The detection of gravitational waves causes the beams to return at ever-so-slightly different times.

The paths of these laser beams are super sensitive but only to the loudest cosmic events, such as a collision between two stars.

On September 14, both LIGO locations detected a minuscule change in laser frequency that, when translated to sound, emitted a short chirp.

This chirp lasted for just a fifth of a second, but scientists eventually determined they recorded a thunderous crash of two black holes far bigger than anticipated.

The signal also matched previous computer simulations of the frequencies produced by gravitational waves, according to The New York Times.

One black hole was found to have a mass about 36 times greater than the sun, while the other was 29 times greater than the sun.

According to the scientists, the end of the chirp signified the two holes formed a single black hole with the mass of 62 suns.

LIGO scientist Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology reportedly said the merge created a storm “in which the flow of time speeded, then slowed, then speeded."

This discovery is by far the most conclusive evidence of the existence of black holes ever obtained.

And now that gravitational waves can be observed, scientists can theoretically use them to search for other objects that don't emit light.

Columbia University Professor Szabolcs Marka told The New York Times,

I think this will be one of the major breakthroughs in physics for a long time. Everything else in astronomy is like the eye. Finally, astronomy grew ears. We never had ears before.

According to Business Insider, LIGO's sensitivity will increase by 1,000 times over the next four years, greatly increasing the chances of observing more gravitational waves.

These recordings could contain crucial information about the origins of the universe.

After all, at 1.3 billion light-years away, the black hole merge recorded in September occurred at at time when Earth was populated only by single-cell organisms.

Citations: The first discovery of 2 colliding black holes just fundamentally changed our perception of the universe (Business Insider), Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves Proving Einstein Right (The New York Times), Physicists detect gravitational waves from violent black hole merger (The Washington Post)