A team of astronomers have discovered a strange object that can exist around a pair of black holes. The discovery could help to unravel the identity of dark matter and reveal the nature of space-time.

New research found that the special particle can exist around a pair of black holes in a manner similar to how an electron exists around a pair of hydrogen atoms. It’s the first time the existence of a so-called “gravitational molecule” has ever been explained.

To unpack what this all means, it must be remembered that in modern physics the electron is represented as a field – a mathematical object that has a value for each point in space and time.

An atom is basically a tiny nucleus surrounded by the electron field. That electron field responds to the presence of the nucleus, and allows the electron to appear only in certain regions.

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Interestingly, the environment of a black hole can be described in a similar way. The center of a black hole is somewhat like the nucleus of an atom, while the surrounding environment is similar to the one that describes a subatomic particle.

The authors of the new study found that particular types of fields – called scalar fields – can exist around binary black holes. It was also discovered that they can form themselves into patterns that resemble how electron fields arrange themselves in molecules.

The breakthrough means that scientists might soon be able to detect dark matter with existing gravitational wave detectors. It raises the tantalizing prospect of shining a light into the poorly understood dark sector of the cosmos.

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