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Biggest black hole collision ever detected

Clare Peddie, September 3, 2020 6:30PM The Advertiser

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Artist’s impression of binary black holes about to collide. Picture: Mark Myers, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) media_cameraArtist’s impression of binary black holes about to collide. Picture: Mark Myers, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav)


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Adelaide scientists are part of the international research team celebrating the discovery of the most massive black hole collision and merger* ever detected.

The universe was about 7 billion years old when these two black holes collided and the gravitational waves rippled out towards us for almost 7 billion years.

As University of Adelaide physics* Professor David Ottaway explained, super massive black holes exist at the centre of most galaxies, such as our own.

And smaller black holes, formed when a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses in on itself, can merge with others to create bigger black holes.

media_cameraA simulation of a black hole merger. Picture: AFP/N. Fischer, H. Pfeiffer, A. Buonanno/Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

But this is something in between, that hints at the connection between the two.

This is the first detection, using gravitational waves, of the collision and merger of huge black holes, including one so big it had a mass in the range not thought to exist. That is because stars 65 to 130 times the mass of our Sun are believed to disintegrate*, without leaving a black hole behind, at the end of their lives.

The collision, captured by observatories in the US and Europe in May last year and reported this week, created a monster black hole 142 times the mass of our Sun.

As part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), scientists in Adelaide develop and deploy* instruments that help these observatories run.

Professor Ottaway enjoys “the thrill of discovery”.

“Being part of something much bigger than yourself is quite exciting,” he said.

“It’s just the challenge of doing something amazingly hard that can lead to some amazing scientific results, expanding human knowledge and, also, looking for ways we can transition the technology developed into other areas.”

Some of that technology is going into mapping for wind farms and developing a way to pinpoint and monitor sources of methane, a greenhouse gas, from above.


  • merger: come together as one
  • physics: science of matter and its motion
  • disintegrate: fall apart
  • deploy: put into use


Collision creates supermassive black hole

World’s first photo of a black hole revealed

Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

Black hole spits out speeding star


  1. How old was the universe when this happened?
  2. What moved towards the Earth that the scientists’ instruments detected?
  3. When was the collision recorded?
  4. How big is the monster black hole compared to the mass of our Sun?
  5. What role do the scientists in Adelaide have in this discovery?


1. Design the Tools
Australian scientists are developing (designing and creating) the instruments (tools) that helped to discover the massive black hole collision. What kind of instrument do you think would be able to do this job? Create a design for a super special instrument that you think could help to detect the massive black holes.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Design and Technology

2. Extension
How would you celebrate the discovery of a massive black hole collision? Create a plan for a Monster Black Hole themed celebration. Include a design for an invitation, ideas for decorations, food, music and activities that would fit this theme perfectly!

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Communication Design, Science

An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.

Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article

Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?


Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.

Have you used any in your writing?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Which part of this story would you like to know more about?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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