Scientists have detected a massive black hole that shouldn't exist. Einstein's theory of gravitational waves provides clarity.

What do you know about black holes? Only what you learned in school? Well, get ready for some additional education because an old theory by Albert Einstein has just been proven about the weird dark stars in the universe.

Way back in the early 20th century (1916 to be exact), as part of his general theory of relativity, Einstein developed a theory about something called gravitational waves. In a nutshell, gravitational waves are what happens when two black holes collide with each other and cause a change in the curve of space-time.

Illustration of two black holes

Courtesy of express.co.uk

This is what that collision might look like. Pretty cool, huh?

There is an observatory in Washington state called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO for short). It partners with the similar institute Virgo in Italy to look for exactly what you think: gravitational waves.

When something happens in the far reaches of space, how far away it is more or less equals how long it will take to see it happen near us on earth.

Okay, with me so far? Good.

So, there was a thing that happened about seven billion years ago: two black holes crashed into each other. When this happened, they formed one giant black hole that had the same mass as 142 suns. Wow, that’s big! Fast-forward to May of 2019, and the scientists at LIGO and Virgo detect a blip on their radar. Well, not really a blip—more like a large bang. It is reported to be the biggest signal the observatory has ever detected.

It also defies the known laws of physics.

You see, for a long time, scientists have been under the impression that black holes can only go up to a certain size. Any size beyond that would fall into what they call the “forbidden zone." One of the black holes involved in the collision we’re talking about had a reported mass of 85 times that of the sun! This is primarily what caught the attention of the scientists at LIGO. That larger black hole falls right in the middle of the forbidden zone.

Large black hole

Courtesy of express.co.uk

Super massive black holes may look pretty, but nothing can live inside them.

It’s not just the size of the two black holes that caught the scientists’ attention, however. It’s the fact that they exist at all. This phenomenon leaves more questions than it does answers. On the one hand, it proves Einstein’s theory about gravitational waves and black holes. On the other hand, the existence of this giant black hole means that physicists now need to rethink their models of the universe.

Though Einstein predicted gravitational waves to be the outcome of a collision between black holes, he also never thought we’d be able to detect them. LIGO was built in order to try, but would have to wait a decade before anything happened. This just goes to show that in order to be a scientist, you need massive amounts of patience (pun totally intended).

If black holes are your thing, and you want to hear more about this story, click here.

What interests you the most about black holes, or physics in general? Comment below!