X-rays and gravitational waves combine to illuminate the massive collision of the black hole

X-rays and gravitational waves combine to illuminate the massive collision of the black hole
black hole

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


The European Space Agency (ESA) recently announced that its two main space observatories from the 1930s will have their launches scheduled 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 observation within a year of each other and will likely have at least four years of overlapping scientific operations.

According to the new study, published in Astronomy of nature (“Linking gravitational waves and X-ray phenomena with joint observations LISA and Athena”), ESA’s decision will offer 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 are at the center of longstanding mysteries surrounding the evolution of the Universe.

They include the collision of supermassive black holes in the nucleus of galaxies in the distant universe and the “swallowing” of stellar compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes from huge black holes housed in the centers of most galaxies.

The gravitational waves measured by LISA will identify the space-time ripples caused by the fusions while the X-rays observed with Athena reveal the hot and highly energetic physical processes in that environment. The combination of these two messengers to observe the same phenomenon in these systems would result in a huge leap forward in our understanding of how huge black holes and galaxies develop, how huge black holes increase their mass and grow, and the role of the gas around these black holes.

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

Dr Sean McGee, professor of astrophysics at the University of Birmingham and member of the Athena and LISA consortia, led the study. He said: “The prospect of simultaneous observations of these events is an unexplored territory and could lead to enormous progress. This promises to be a revolution in our understanding of supermassive black holes and how they grow within galaxies.”

Professor Alberto Vecchio, director of the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, University of Birmingham, and coauthor of the study, said: “I have been working on LISA for twenty years and the prospect of combining forces with the most powerful X-ray eyes ever designed to look exactly at the center of the galaxies they promise to make this long range even more rewarding. It is difficult to predict exactly what we will find out: we should just tie in, because it will be a good ride. “

During the life of the missions, there can be up to 10 mergers of black holes with masses from 100,000 to 10,000,000 times the mass of the sun which has strong enough signals to be observed by both observers. Although due to our current lack of understanding of the physics that occurs during these mergers and the frequency with which they occur, observers may observe many more or many less of these events. Indeed, these are questions that will be answered by the comments.

In addition, LISA will detect the early stages of stellar-mass black hole fusions that will conclude with the detection of gravitational waves on the ground in observatories. This early detection will allow Athena to observe the binary position at the exact moment when the merger will occur.


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More information:
Sean McGee et al. Connect gravitational waves and X-ray phenomena with joint observations LISA and Athena, Astronomy of nature (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-019-0969-7

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X-rays and gravitational waves combine to illuminate the massive black hole collision (2020, January 14)
recovered on January 14, 2020
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