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Detection Of Strongest Gravitational Waves From Supermassive Black Holes Within A Decade
They were predicted by Albert Einstein about 100 years ago, but gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — were first detected only in February 2016. Of the total of five such detections since, four instances were a result of the merger of black holes, while the fifth — also the strongest — was caused by merging neutron stars.
However, within the next 10 years, we will be able to detect gravitational waves that are far stronger than anything we have detected so far, resulting from the merger of supermassive black holes. It is not that these cosmic behemoths, over 100 million times more massive than the sun, will suddenly start merging within the next decade; it is just that scientists have figured out better where to look.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which first detected gravitational waves from colliding black holes in 2016, and the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector, which observed the neutron star merger-produced waves in October, both detect objects in the moments right before they merge. But the method to detect the merger of supermassive black holes will rely on pulsars.
These rapidly spinning remnants of dead stars emit regular beams of radio waves, or pulses, earning them their name. Using an array of well-known pulsars can help scientists detect even miniscule abnormalities, like gravitational waves from merging supermassive black holes. These waves, being much stronger, have a far lower frequency than the gravitational waves that have been observed so far, which is why they cannot be detected by human-made instruments.
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