Astrophysicists stoked to catch totally killer waves got a major bummer in Poland this week.
The epic fat gravitational wave they‘ve been waiting for won’t come along for, like, forever, according to Kryzsztof Belczynski, a physicist at the University of Warsaw. (He goes by Chris on his website.)
Hopes had been amped up three years ago when observers detected monster stars in the Magellanic Cloud that were some 200-300 times the mass of our sun. The astrophysicists who’ve been looking to detect gravity waves figure if these monsters formed tight binary systems, collisions could occur, sending epic sets of gravitational waves that could easily be detected from the beach known as Earth.
Belczynski calculated how long it would take for these “impossible” stars to collapse into super-massive black holes, and the news was not good.
Normally, binary systems of paired black holes or neutron stars will slowly lose energy, moving closer and closer until they collide. The bigger they are, the bigger the gravitational waves, and the easier it would be to detect them.
But these Megallanic monsters are too far apart – hundreds if not thousands of solar radii distant from each other, the Polish physicist explained. The quickest way for them to come into a collision scenario would be for one to expand suddenly, drawing the other into its atmosphere and causing their orbit to tighten until they collide.
Such a “common envelope event” can’t happen, Belczynski said, because the components of these super-massive binary systems don’t expand. The only phenomenon left to sap their energy enough to draw them into a collision scenario are gravitational waves that are bogus ankle-breakers: very, very weak. At that rate, it would take tens, or perhaps hundreds, of billions of years for energy to dissipate enough - which is lame, because that’s way more time than has passed since the Big Bang.
But in physics, there’s always an “unless.” This one’s a big one: Current models of stellar evolution could be wrong. And that would be epic.