"This is the first time we've been able to use information about gravitational waves to study another aspect of the Universe - the growth of massive black holes," said Ramesh Bhat, of the Curtin University node of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), in a news release.
"Black holes are almost impossible to observe directly, but armed with this powerful new tool we're in for some exciting times in astronomy. One model for how black holes grow has already been discounted, and now we're going to start looking at the others."
The big question about the biggest black holes is whether they packed on the pounds by violently merging with other black holes, or whether some other growth process is at work. If the former is true, there should be a clue hidden in the nature of gravitational waves.
"When the black holes get close to meeting they emit gravitational waves at just the frequency that we should be able to detect," said Bhat, who co-authored a study that has been published in the journal Science with postdoctorate researcher Ryan Shannon and PhD postgraduate Vikram Ravi.