Conventional theory suggests that supermassive black holes are relatively rare in the universe. Collisions between these massive dark objects, such as what caused recently detected gravitational waves to ripple throughout the cosmos, should therefore be even rarer.

But according to a new model, conventional theory could be in line for a reboot. This new research suggests that supermassive black holes are not evenly distributed throughout the universe; they are clustered in some regions more than others. So there might actually be far more of them than previously thought. In fact, collisions between them within these scant regions could be happening fairly frequently, and the universe might be in a state of constant reverberation from the impacts.

“The universe isn’t the same everywhere,” said Richard O’Shaughnessy, co-author of the study led by Krzysztof Belczynski from Warsaw University, in a press release. “Some places produce many more binary black holes than others. Our study takes these differences into careful account.”

Belczynski's model suggests that future gravitational wave detectors could pick up readings of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of supermassive black hole collisions each year. The findings, reported in the journal, Nature, are the most detailed calculations of their kind ever performed.

Gravitational waves were only first detected last year, and officially announced earlier this year, using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). They were caused by the collision of two supermassive black holes merging about 1.3 billion light years away. This single event not only confirmed predictions made by Einstein, it unveiled a wealth of knowledge about our universe.

“We’ve already seen that we can learn a lot about Einstein’s theory and massive stars, just from this one event,” said O’Shaughnessy.

The amount of knowledge that could be achieved through hundreds of such measurements annually could usher in a whole new era of analysis. This data will give researchers an unprecedented wealth of detail about our universe.

“The next round of observations of advanced LIGO may soon prove this prediction right. In any case it will provide very important insight into stellar black hole formation mechanisms,” added Carlos Lousto, a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Massive black holes could be far more numerous than previously thought
A new model predicts that future gravitational wave detectors could measure hundreds of black hole collisions annually.