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Lightest black hole merger detected

23/11/2017

Lightest black hole merger detected

Scientists searching for gravitational waves have confirmed yet another detection from their fruitful observation run earlier this year. The latest discovery, dubbed GW170608, was produced by the merger of two relatively light black holes, seven and 12 times the mass of the sun, at a distance of about a thousand million light-years from Earth.

The merger left behind a final black hole 18 times the mass of the sun, meaning that energy equivalent to about one solar mass was emitted as gravitational waves during the collision.

In a new paper, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration announced this latest gravitational wave discovery – the collision of the lightest pair of binary black holes seen by the collaborations' detectors since the first detection in September 2015.

Dr John Veitch, who is co-chair of LIGO's Compact Binary Coalescence Search Group and Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy said:

"GW170608 is the lightest pair of black holes that we have detected so far, which provides us with new opportunities to explore the crossover between gravitational wave astronomy and more conventional forms of astronomy."

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow Institute for Gravitational Research, said:

"Our most recent observing run is still giving us new surprises - and extending the black hole family tree into new branches."

Professor Martin Hendry, head of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said:

"This latest discovery will help astronomers to better compare and contrast the properties of black holes observed with gravitational waves with the properties of similar-mass black holes previously detected indirectly with X-ray observations."

Despite their relatively diminutive size, GW170608's black holes will greatly contribute to the growing field of 'multimessenger astronomy', where gravitational wave astronomers and electromagnetic astronomers are working together to learn more about these exotic and mysterious objects. 

The UK's involvement with gravitational waves research is led by the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow.

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