The universe is awash in titanic collisions and explosions. Stars blow up, galaxies crash into each other, and newborn planets are pulverized by wayward intruders.

But the most powerful events come from the collision of supermassive black holes — billions of times the mass of our Sun — that circle and crash into each other like a pair of Sumo wrestlers. Such a rapid compression of mass sends out ripples across space, causing the universe to shudder like a plate of Jell-O.

From March 30 to April 1, astronomers will meet at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. to look into the future, where our understanding of gravity waves will transition from a theoretical physics to a breakthrough observational science. The primary goal of the meeting is to bring together theorists and observers from a number of different fields to explore — over a wide range of timescales — the promise of actually detecting and characterizing the properties of merging black holes.

Attending scientists will participate in a media telecon from 12:30-2:00 p.m. on March 30 to give an overview of the top science topics explored in the meeting, including: black holes in galaxy mergers and evolution; gravitational waves; electromagnetic clues; gravitational recoil from black holes; and the collision imprint on galaxy structure. The participants will also look at the next-generation observatories needed for making observations.

The telecon participants are:

– Joan Centrella, chief, Gravitational Astrophysics Laboratory, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

– Carlos Frenk, director, Institute for Computational Cosmology, University of Durham, U.K.

– E. Sterl Phinney, professor, Theoretical Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

– John Hawley, chair, Astronomy Department, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Science writers who wish to join the media telecon should contact Cheryl Gundy ( by 3:00 p.m. on March 27.

For more information about the Observational Signatures of Black Hole Mergers meeting, visit:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington, D.C.

STScI is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) program partner.