Black holes can speed through the universe at 17,500 miles per second, scientists say — and the discovery could reveal new laws of physics

Black hole collision illustration
Black holes can get caught in each others gravitational grip and either collide or recoil.NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello
  • Black holes can move through the universe at 17,500 miles per second, scientists have calculated.

  • That's one-tenth the speed of light, according to a study published in Physical Review Letters.

  • The discovery could reveal brand new laws of physics, one expert said.

Scientists have calculated a potential speed limit on the universe. And it could offer a window into new laws of physics.

The speed limit has to do with black holes — objects in space so dense that their gravity permanently captures anything that ventures too close, including light. That's why black holes appear black.

When two black holes are locked in each other's gravitational caress, they will either collide or recoil. If they recoil and go flying off into space, what maximum speed could they reach?

That's the question that two scientists have answered in a recent study published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. The scientists estimate the recoil speed limit for black holes is around 63 million miles per hour.

That's roughly 17,500 miles per second, or one-tenth the speed of light. It's fast enough to circle planet Earth in 1.4 seconds.

A window into new laws of physics

A yellow ring shows a black hole outlined by a bright yellow ring of dust being burnt up.
The world's first image of a black hole. The orange ring is a cloud of superheated material being sucked into the black hole.Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Carlos Lousto, co-author of the study, emphasized the enormous implications of the finding.

"We are just scratching the surface of something that could be a more universal description," Lousto, a professor of mathematics and statistics at the Rochester Institute of Technology told Live Science.

The newly discovered speed limit could change how we understand everything "from the smallest to the largest objects in the universe," he added.

Lousto and his colleague used Einstein's theories of general relativity to simulate how two interacting black holes will change over time.

An artistic rendering of two massive black holes in the OJ 287 galaxy.
An artistic rendering of two black holes interacting.NASA/JPL-Caltech

They ran 1,381 different simulations, tweaking small factors for each one like the point of closest approach and speed of rotation (yes, black holes can spin).

They calculated that the maximum speed limit that recoiling black holes could reach was around 63 million mph. But that's according to the equations established by the physical laws we know and love today.

What if astronomers observe black holes that break this speed limit, recoiling at speeds greater than 63 million mph? A mystery like that could force scientists to turn to new, unknown laws of physics for an explanation.

It wouldn't be the first time a discovery has upended physics as we know it.

There are still some crucial outstanding mysteries that indicate scientists' current model of physics is missing something.

New particles, particles that are too wobbly, and evidence that the universe is expanding faster than expected could all lead to new physics.

Checking for black holes that exceed the speed limit is an opportunity to find more clues about what the heck is going on in our universe.

"It will be interesting to see whether nature exceeds this in some situations that could signal deviations from our understanding of how black holes work," Imre Bartos, a professor of physics at the University of Florida who was not involved with the study, told Live Science.

Read the original article on Business Insider