Pac-Man mergers could explain massive, spinning black holes

Scientists have detected gravitational waves from ten black hole mergers so far. They are trying to explain the origins of those mergers with the largest detected so far, having defied previous models. The scientists say that the largest of the detected mergers have a higher spin and mass that thought possible.

Scientist Rochard O'Shaughnessy has created simulations that could explain how the mergers happened. The new research into the mergers suggests that the merger happens just outside the supermassive black holes at the center of active galactic nuclei. The gas, stars, dust, and black holes become caught in a region surrounding the supermassive black holes known as the accretion disk.

The team suggests that the black holes circle the disk and eventually collide and merge to form a bigger black hole that continues to devour smaller black holes. This leads to the supermassive black home benign increasingly large in what O'Shaughnessy calls "Pac-Man-like" behavior. The data from the new simulations suggest a natural way to explain the high mass, high spin binary black hole mergers to produce binaries in parts of parameter space that other models are unable to populate.

The team hopes to find signatures of large, spinning black holes that could help to confirm their models. The team says that if their assumptions are correct, it could help to better understand how the cosmic web of galaxies assembles.

The team says that the new model offers a "tantalizing prospect" for scientists in the filed. There is no way to get certain types of black holes out of other formation channels. The LIGO and Virgo collaboration is hunting for gravitational waves to study. O'Shaughnessy says that the new model offers a way to probe the physics around a supermassive black hole that couldn't be probed any other way.