Black hole mergers are having a moment: Just a few weeks ago, an international team of scientists announced the fourth-ever detection of gravitational waves coming from a black hole smash-up. Now, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) think they might know where these giant collisions are lurking within spiral galaxies similar to ours.

According to a new study set to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, RIT scientists claim that the edge of spiral galaxies could have all the right ingredients to host big black hole mergers. Previously, dwarf galaxies were thought to be the best place to look for these massive collisions since they don’t have many stars or heavy metals left over from supernovae. Unfortunately, dwarf galaxies are hard to spot, since they have low luminosity — in other words, they’re not very bright.

The RIT researchers say that the outer edges of spiral galaxies might be similar environments to dwarf galaxies, and — bonus points — they’re much easier to observe.

“The metal content in the outer disks of spiral galaxies is also quite low and should be rife with black holes in this large area,” the study’s lead author Sukanya Chakrabarti, an assistant professor of physics at RIT, said in a statement.

Understanding where black hole mergers come from is especially useful for scientists trying to pinpoint the source of various gravitational waves. Over the last year alone, researchers have developed more sophisticated ways of tracing gravitational waves, and it’ll only get better from here.

Nothing puts your entire life into perspective more than the fact that giant, ravenous holes are colliding somewhere out in the universe. It’s truly humbling — and mildly terrifying.


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