X-rays and gravitational waves will combine to illuminate massive black hole collisions

January 14, 2020

A new study by a group of researchers at the University of Birmingham has found that collisions of supermassive black holes may be simultaneously observable in both gravitational waves and X-rays at the beginning of the next decade.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has recently announced that its two major space observatories of the 2030s will have their launches timed for simultaneous use. These missions, Athena, the next generation X-ray space telescope and LISA, the first space-based gravitational wave observatory, will be coordinated to begin observing within a year of each other and are likely to have at least four years of overlapping science operations.

According to the new study, published this week in Nature Astronomy, ESA's decision will give astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to produce multi-messenger maps of some of the most violent cosmic events in the Universe, which have not been observed so far and which lie at the heart of long-standing mysteries surrounding the evolution of the Universe.

They include the collision of supermassive black holes in the core of galaxies in the distant universe and the "swallowing up" of stellar compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes by massive black holes harboured in the centres of most galaxies.

The gravitational waves measured by LISA will pinpoint the ripples of space time that the mergers cause while the X-rays observed with Athena reveal the hot and highly energetic physical processes in that environment. Combining these two messengers to observe the same phenomenon in these systems would bring a huge leap in our understanding of how massive black holes and galaxies co-evolve, how massive black holes grow their mass and accrete, and the role of gas around these black holes.

These are some of the big unanswered questions in astrophysics that have puzzled scientists for decades.

Dr Sean McGee, Lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham and a member of both the Athena and LISA consortiums, led the study. He said, "The prospect of simultaneous observations of these events is uncharted territory, and could lead to huge advances. This promises to be a revolution in our understanding of supermassive black holes and how they growth within galaxies."

Professor Alberto Vecchio, Director of the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, University of Birmingham, and a co-author on the study, said: "I have worked on LISA for twenty years and the prospect of combining forces with the most powerful X-ray eyes ever designed to look right at the centre of galaxies promises to make this long haul even more rewarding. It is difficult to predict exactly what we're going to discover: we should just buckle up, because it is going to be quite a ride".

During the life of the missions, there may be as many as 10 mergers of black holes with masses of 100,000 to 10,000,000 times the mass of the sun that have signals strong enough to be observed by both observatories. Although due to our current lack of understanding of the physics occurring during these mergers and how frequently they occur, the observatories could observe many more or many fewer of these events. Indeed, these are questions which will be answered by the observations.

In addition, LISA will detect the early stages of stellar mass black holes mergers which will conclude with the detection in ground based gravitational wave observatories. This early detection will allow Athena to be observing the binary location at the precise moment the merger will occur.
-end-
Notes to editor:



University of Birmingham

Related Black Holes Articles from Brightsurf:

The black hole always chirps twice: New clues deciphering the shape of black holes
A team of gravitational-wave scientists led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) reveal that when two black holes collide and merge, the remnant black hole 'chirps' not once, but multiple times, emitting gravitational waves--intense ripples in the fabric space and time--that inform us about its shape.

Black holes? They are like a hologram
Spherical, smooth and simple according to the theory of relativity, or extremely complex and full of information as, according to quantum laws, Stephen Hawking used to say?

Under pressure, black holes feast
A new, Yale-led study shows that some supermassive black holes actually thrive under pressure.

Staining cycles with black holes
In the treatment of tumors, microenvironment plays an important role.

Black holes sometimes behave like conventional quantum systems
A group of Skoltech researchers led by Professor Anatoly Dymarsky have studied the emergence of generalized thermal ensembles in quantum systems with additional symmetries.

Scientists may have discovered whole new class of black holes
New research shows that astronomers' search for black holes might have been missing an entire class of black holes that they didn't know existed.

Are black holes made of dark energy?
Two University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers have identified and corrected a subtle error that was made when applying Einstein's equations to model the growth of the universe.

Telescopes in space for even sharper images of black holes
Astronomers have just managed to take the first image of a black hole, and now the next challenge facing them is how to take even sharper images, so that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity can be tested.

Can entangled qubits be used to probe black holes?
Information escapes from black holes via Hawking radiation, so it should be possible to capture it and use it to reconstruct what fell in: if given time longer than the age of the universe.

How black holes power plasma jets
Cosmic robbery powers the jets streaming from a black hole, new simulations reveal.

Read More: Black Holes News and Black Holes Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.