A computer simulation shows the collision of two black holes, a tremendously powerful event detected for the first time ever by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. LIGO detected gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time generated as the black holes spiraled in toward each other, collided, and merged. This simulation shows how the merger would appear to our eyes if we could somehow travel in a spaceship for a closer look. It was created by solving equations from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity using the LIGO data.
The two merging black holes are each roughly 30 times the mass of the sun, with one slightly larger than the other. Time has been slowed down by a factor of about 100. The event took place 1.3 billion years ago.
The stars appear warped due to the incredibly strong gravity of the black holes. The black holes warp space and time, and this causes light from the stars to curve around the black holes in a process called gravitational lensing. The ring around the black holes, known as an Einstein ring, arises from the light of all the stars in a small region behind the holes, where gravitational lensing has smeared their images into a ring.
The gravitational waves themselves would not be seen by a human near the black holes and so do not show in this video, with one important exception. The gravitational waves that are traveling outward toward the small region behind the black holes disturb that region’s stellar images in the Einstein ring, causing them to slosh around, even long after the collision. The gravitational waves traveling in other directions cause weaker, and shorter-lived sloshing, everywhere outside the ring.
Credits: Animation created by SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project (http://www.black-holes.org)
Gravitational waves sent out from a pair of colliding black holes have been converted to sound waves, as heard in this animation. On September 14, 2015, LIGO observed gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun. The incredibly powerful event, which released 50 times more energy than all the stars in the observable universe, lasted only fractions of a second.
In the first two runs of the animation, the sound-wave frequencies exactly match the frequencies of the gravitational waves. The second two runs of the animation play the sounds again at higher frequencies that better fit the human hearing range. The animation ends by playing the original frequencies again twice.
As the black holes spiral closer and closer in together, the frequency of the gravitational waves increases. Scientists call these sounds "chirps," because some events that generate gravitation waves would sound like a bird's chirp.
Audio Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
GW150914, the first ever detected gravitaional wave, came from two black holes that merged over a billion light years from Earth. This picture is extracted from a computer simulation showing what this would look like up close.
The black holes are near us, in front of a sky filled with stars and gas and dust. The black regions are the shadows of the two black holes: no light would reach us from these areas. Light from each star or bit of gas or dust travels to our eyes along paths (light rays) that are greatly bent by the holes' gravity and by their warped spacetime.
Credit: SXS Lensing (License: CC-BY-SA 4.0)