When supermassive black holes run into each other, the fabric of space and time gets a little bit wrinkled.
What do you think happens when two black holes meet?
This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Clara Moskowitz. Got a minute?
When two supermassive black holes get near each other, their gravity draws them closer and closer. Gravity also pulls in a doughnut-shaped disk of gas from the surrounding galaxy. This gas heats up and radiates jets of light we can see from across the universe. These jets are the most luminous objects in the sky.
As the black holes circle in toward each other, their magnetic fields, shown in white, become intertwined.
Eventually, when the two supermassive objects get close enough, they suddenly plunge toward each other and fuse into one larger black hole.
The merger releases not just a torrent of light but also gravitational waves that spiral outward and warp the entire fabric of space and time.
Scientists hope one day soon to capture one of these waves, which might reveal secrets about the nature of gravity and the fundamental workings of the universe.
Thanks for the minute! For Scientific American, I’m Clara Moskowitz.
—Eliene Augenbraun and Clara Moskowitz
Multicolor animations by Stuart Shapiro, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Chandra black hole image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/R.C.Reis et al; Optical: NASA/STScI