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Black hole physicists have been excitedly discussing reports that the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors recently picked up the signal of an unexpectedly enormous black hole, one with a mass that was thought to be physically impossible.

“The prediction is no black holes, not even a few” in this mass range, wrote Stan Woosley, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an email. “But of course we know nature often finds a way.”

Seven experts contacted by Quanta said they’d heard that among the 22 flurries of gravitational waves detected by LIGO and Virgo since April, one of the signals came from a collision involving a black hole of unanticipated heft — purportedly as heavy as 100 suns. LIGO/Virgo team members would neither confirm nor deny the rumored detection.

Chris Belczynski, an astrophysicist at Warsaw University, previously felt so sure that such a large specimen wouldn’t be seen that in 2017 he placed a bet with colleagues. “I think we are about to lose the bet,” Belczynski said, “and for the good of science!”

Belczynski’s former confidence came from the fact that such a big black hole can’t form in the usual way.

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Category: Science