Black hole smashup generated yottawatts of power

36 septillion yottawatts were released during collision

Black hole merger

VIOLENT OUTBURST  At the moment two black holes merge, space and time get whipped up into a frenzy that generates more power than 100 thousand billion billion suns. The colors show how time slows near the black holes. Where color is red, time moves slower.


Yottawatt YOT-ah-wat n.:  
1 million billion billion watts

That’s a lotta watts. And a lot more — 3.6 x 1049 watts,  or 36 septillion yottawatts — blasted out of the black hole collision that the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detected in September. Rather than a flash of light, the power came out as ripples in spacetime. As the black holes merged, three suns’ worth of mass transformed into gravitational wave energy in a few milliseconds, researchers report in Physical Review Letters on February 12.

“[It] created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time,” Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne said at a February news conference announcing the discovery. The storm’s power, he said, “was 50 times greater than all of the power put out by all of the stars in the universe put together.” 

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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