Scientists pick up shock waves from colliding galaxies

Scientists have picked up shock waves from the orbit of supermassive black holes at the heart of distant galaxies as they begin to merge, BBC reported.

This may be the first direct evidence of giant black holes distorting space and time as they spiral in on each other.

The theory is that this is how galaxies grow. Now astronomers may soon be able to watch it happen.

These distortions are happening all the time, all across the Universe.

One of the groups that made the discovery is the European Pulsar Timing Array Consortium (EPTA), led by Prof Michael Kramer of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn.

He told BBC News that the discovery had the potential to change astronomers’ ideas about the cosmos forever.

“It could tell us if Einstein’s theory of gravity is wrong; it may tell us about what dark matter and dark energy, the mysterious stuff that makes up the bulk of the Universe, really is; and it could give us a new window into new theories of physics.”

Further study might give new insights into the role supermassive black holes play in the evolution of all galaxies.

Dr Rebecca Bowler, of Manchester University, told BBC News that researchers believe there to be gigantic black holes at the heart of all galaxies and that that they grow over billions of years. But so far that has all been theoretical.

“We know supermassive black holes are there, we just don’t know how they got there. One possibility is that smaller black holes merge, but there has been little observational evidence for this.

“But with these new observations we could see such a merger for the first time. And that directly will tell us how the most massive black holes form,” she said.

The observations were made by studying signals from dead stars called pulsars. These rotate and send out bursts of radio signals at extremely precise intervals.

But researchers, which include astronomers from the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire and from Birmingham University, have found that these signals are reaching Earth ever so slightly faster or slower than they should be. And they say the time distortion is consistent with gravitational waves created by the merger of supermassive black holes across the Universe.

Dr Stanislav Babak from Laboratory APC at CNRS, France, said gravitational waves carried information about ”some of the best-kept secrets of the Universe”.

The newly found gravitational waves are different to the ones detected to date. Those earlier waves are caused by much smaller, star-sized black holes crashing into each other.

The type described in the latest research are thought to be from black holes that are hundreds of millions of times more massive, spiralling in on each other as they get ever closer.

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