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Twin Black Holes May Have Been Born Inside a Single Star

First Posted: Feb 25, 2016 07:24 AM EST

Scientists have discovered twin black holes that may have been born inside a single star. The new findings could reveal a bit more about the physics of the universe.

In this latest study, the researchers used the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) to detect the gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes that were 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun. Now, researchers have found that these two black holes may have actually resided inside a single, massive star.

"It's the cosmic equivalent of a pregnant woman carrying twins inside her belly," said Avi Loeb, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Normally, when a massive star reaches the end of its life, its core collapses into a single black hole. But if the star was spinning extremely rapidly, its core may have stretched into a dumbbell shape and fragment into two clumps, each forming its own black hole.

After the black hole pair formed, it's likely the star's outer envelope rushed inward toward them. In order to power both the gravitational wave event and the gamma-ray burst, the twin black holes must have been born close together, with an initial separation of order the size of Earth, and merged within minutes. The newly formed single black hole then fed on the infalling matter, consuming up to a Sun's worth of material every second and powering jets of matter that blasted outward to create the burst.

If more gamma-ray bursts are detected from gravitational wave events, they will offer a promising new method of measuring cosmic distances and the expansion of the universe.

"This is an agenda-setting paper that will likely stimulate vigorous follow-up work, in the crucial period after the initial LIGO discovery, where the challenge is to fathom its full implications," said Volker Bromm, one of the researchers.

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