Researchers have been studying whether the collision of a gargantuan black hole could confirm the phenomenon of gravity predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago.
According to new research published today (Opens in a new tab) In the journal Nature, the phenomenon — which is known as precession and is seen as a wobbly motion sometimes seen flying overhead — occurs when two ancient black holes collide and merge into one. As the two massive objects spiraled closer together, they released immense circles through the space-time context of gravitational waves that traveled outward through the cosmos, carrying energy and angular momentum from the sinking black holes.
Scientists first detected these waves emanating from black holes in 2020, using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US and the Virgo gravitational-wave sensors in Italy. Now, after years of studying wave patterns, researchers have confirmed that one of the black holes is spinning at a rate never seen before.
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The spherical black hole was twisting and turning 10 billion times faster than any black hole previously observed, which caused space and time to be so distorted as to cause such black holes to wobble or wobble in their orbits.
Researchers have observed precession in everything from supermassive to dying star systems, but never in objects as massive as binary black hole systems, in which two empty worlds orbit around a common center. But Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted more than 100 years ago that precession would occur in both massive objects and binary black holes. Now, the authors of the study say, this rare phenomenon has been observed in nature for the first time.
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“We’ve always thought that binary black holes could do this,” lead author Mark Hannam, director of the Gravity Exploration Institute at Cardiff University in the UK, said in a statement. (Opens in a new tab). “We wanted to detect an example ever since the first gravitational wave. We had to wait five years and more than 80 separate detections, but finally we have one!”
The black holes in question were many times larger than the sun, with the larger of the two estimated to be about 40 solar masses. Researchers detected the first binary wind in 2020, when LIGO and Virgo detected a burst of gravitational waves emitted by the collision of two black holes. The team named this collision GW200129, after the date of its discovery (Jan. 29, 2020).
Since then, other scientists have pored over the data on that initial gravitational wave, uncovering ever-strange mysteries about this epic collision. (Although scientists only have gravitational waves to go on and no direct observations, they cannot pinpoint the exact location of black holes).
For example, in May 2022, a team of researchers calculated that the merger between two black holes was both massive and lopsided, with gravitational waves from the collision burning in one direction, while it recently plunged into the black hole, likely a “kick” from its home galaxy more than 3 million it has hundreds of thousands of mph (4.8 million km/h) in the opposite direction.
This new research suggests that the two black holes in nature had a relationship before their violent merger. As the two gargantuan objects whirled about each other in an ever-increasing orbit, the peaks began to sway as if drunk, and to pray several times a second. According to the authors of the study, this precession effect is estimated to be 10 billion times faster than any other ever measured.
These findings vindicate Einstein, who predicted that such effects could occur on certain dimensions of the universe. But the results also raise the question of whether vagrant black hole-like mergers are as rare as once thought.
“The major black hole in this binary, which was about 40 times more massive than the sun, was almost as early as possible as a body,” said study co-author Charlie Hoy, a researcher at Cardiff University at the time of the study; and now at the University of Portsmouth in the UK “Our current models of the binary format suggest this is a very rare, perhaps one in a thousand event. Or it could be a sign that we need to change our models.”
First published in Live Science.
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