By applying the rules of Einsteinian general relativity to data pulled in by the Pan-STARRS telescope, scientist have developed two distinct simulations of supermassive black hole mergers that are considered the best yet.

As reported in Nature News, these simulations were presented earlier this month at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, Maryland by astronomer Stuart Shaprio who works out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The movies are a supplement to a paper his team put out on the subject last year.

Above: Electromagnetic radiation emitted by two swirling supermassive blackholes (Stu Shapiro)

The simulations don’t show the black holes merging per se, but instead provide visualizations of two key cosmological signatures that would be emitted during the merging process; the movies show the radiation that might be detected when two supermassive black holes swirl around each other, namely electromagnetic radiation and gravitational waves (ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein).

Above: Gravitational waves emitted by two swirling supermassive blackholes (Stu Shapiro)

Incredibly, the mathematical models allowed Shapiro and his team to confirm that two supermassive black holes currently under study— each of them weighing ten billion Suns — are set to collide in as little as seven years.


Nature News reports that

Shapiro’s team developed a mathematical model to couple Einstein’s equations (which describe the gravitational field around a black hole) with equations that govern the motion of matter moving close to the speed of light in a magnetic field.

A cosmologist not affiliated with the study described it as a “giant step forward.”


Read more about these remarkable simulations and how they were put together at Nature News.