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LIGO snags another set of gravitational waves

Spacetime vibrations arrive from black hole collision 3 billion light-years away

By
11:00am, June 1, 2017
illustration of gravitational waves

THREE OF A KIND  Scientists have made a third detection of gravitational waves. A pair of black holes, shown above, fused into one, in a powerful collision about 3 billion light-years from Earth. That smashup churned up ripples in spacetime that were detected by the LIGO experiment.

For a third time, scientists have detected the infinitesimal reverberations of spacetime: gravitational waves.

Two black holes stirred up the spacetime wiggles, orbiting one another and spiraling inward until they fused into one jumbo black hole with a mass about 49 times that of the sun. Ripples from that union, which took place about 3 billion light-years from Earth, zoomed across the cosmos at the speed of light, eventually reaching the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO, which detected them on January 4.

“These are the most powerful astronomical events witnessed by human beings,” Michael Landry, head of LIGO’s Hanford, Wash., observatory, said during a news conference May 31 announcing the discovery. As the black holes merged, they converted about two suns’ worth of mass into energy, radiated as gravitational waves. 

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