Newly merged black hole eagerly shreds stars

April 8, 2011
In this artist's conception, two black holes are about to merge. When they combine, gravitational wave radiation will "kick" the black hole like a rocket engine, sending it rampaging through nearby stars. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

A galaxy's core is a busy place, crowded with stars swarming around an enormous black hole. When galaxies collide, it gets even messier as the two black holes spiral toward each other, merging to make an even bigger gravitational monster.

Once it is created, the monster goes on a rampage. The merger kicks the black hole into surrounding stars. There it finds a hearty meal, shredding and swallowing stars at a rapid clip. According to new research by Nick Stone and Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), upcoming sky surveys might offer astronomers a way to catch a gorging black hole "in the act."

Before the merger, as the two black holes whirl around each other, they stir the like the blade of a blender. Their strong gravity warps space, sending out ripples known as gravitational waves. When the merge, they emit gravitational waves more strongly in one direction. That inequality kicks the black hole in the opposite direction like a rocket engine.

"That kick is very important. It can shove the black hole toward stars that otherwise would have been at a safe distance," said Stone.

"Essentially, the black hole can go from starving to enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet," he added.

When tidal forces rip a star apart, its remains will spiral around the black hole, smashing and rubbing together, heating up enough to shine in the ultraviolet or X-rays. The black hole will glow as brightly as an , or supernova, before gradually fading in a distinctive way.

Importantly, a wandering, supermassive black hole is expected to swallow many more stars than a black hole in an undisrupted galactic center. A stationary black hole disrupts one star every 100,000 years. In the best-case scenario, a wandering black hole could disrupt a star every decade. This would give astronomers a much better opportunity of spotting these events, particularly with new survey facilities like Pan-STARRS and the .

Catching the signal from a disrupted star is a good start. However, astronomers really want to combine that information with gravitational wave data from the black hole merger. The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a future mission designed to detect and study , could provide that data.

Gravitational wave measurements yield very accurate distances (to better than one part in a hundred, or 1 percent). However, they don't provide precise sky coordinates. A star's tidal disruption will let astronomers pinpoint the galaxy containing the recently merged black-hole binary.

By correlating the galaxy's redshift (a change in its light that's caused by the expanding universe) with an accurate distance, astronomers can infer the equation of state of dark energy. In other words, they can learn more about the force that's accelerating cosmic expansion, and which dominates the cosmic mass/energy budget today.

"Instead of 'standard candles' like supernovae, the black hole binary would be a 'standard siren.' Using it, we could create the most accurate cosmic 'ruler' possible," stated Loeb.

Finding a merged black hole also would allow theorists to explore a new regime of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

"We could test general relativity in the regime of strong gravity with unprecedented precision," said Loeb.

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1.6 / 5 (11) Apr 08, 2011
The main question is whether these massive objects are

a.) Fragmenting from repulsive interactions between neutrons to produce nuclei of new stars, or

b.) "Shredding" nearby stars.

For reasons given here [Neutron Repulsion, The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages, ], I suspect that the correct answer is a.)

With kind regards,
OLiver K. Manuel
Apr 09, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1 / 5 (6) Apr 09, 2011
LIFE started from coal, has benzene rings which started life on earth. Avoid coal and look for oil wells
1 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2011
Neutron repulsion is explained in this video:

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1 / 5 (4) Apr 10, 2011
5 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2011
these are some awful comments
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
lol with Noumenal, indeed!

I don't have the physics to assess this, but am curious if the current gamma ray event 110328A (not willing to call two weeks a single burst) is a result of a merged black hole system going through its neighbours...
5 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2011

It is rather interesting (but coincidental) that news of 110328A breaks around the time of this story. At this point, though, I think it's too early to tell precisely what's going on with this galaxy wrt the outburst.

There's still too little hard info available to make an informed guess. There has been some talk as to if this object is related to blazars (which includes BL Lac and Optically Violent Variable galaxies) which exhibit relatavistic jets beamed toward us.

Stan Woosley (UCSC)has opined that this could be a scaled-up version of what we see in standard GRBs. In this case the core of the massive star collapses to form a BH while the outer layers take days to fall in, producing the prolonged outburst: http://www.scienc...t_galaxy

This mechanism has been invoked before to explain a handful of unusual (long-duration)GRBs, so there might be some connection.

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