By: April Carson
In an extreme case of a prediction made by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity that has now been observed clearly for the first time, two black holes have been seen wobbling at a rate of three times per second as they combine.
Precession is the name for the wobbling effect you see when an object's orbit or rotation slowly changes over time. A good example of precession is when a spinning top starts to spin at a different angle as it slows down. Precession caused by gravity happens when a heavy object bends space-time, changing the shape of its orbit over time.
The precession of their orbits in this system had been studied somewhat weakly among neutron stars circling one another, but it was so subtle that the orbital motions only wobbled or precessed at a rate of a few times each year.
But the extreme gravity of black holes makes their precession happen much faster.
"We've seen this kind of thing before in neutron star systems, but never with black holes," says lead author Thomas Dent, a PhD student at Monash University and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the OzGrav Centre of Excellence.
The effect is even more dramatic by comparison. Now, Mark Hannam and his colleagues at Cardiff University, UK, have witnessed a much greater impact in a pair of black holes that were spinning at half the speed of light at a 90-degree angle to each other's orbital motion. The black holes merged, emitting gravitational waves known as GW200129 that exhibited 3 Hz precession.
"This is the first time that we've seen such a fast precession in a black hole binary," Hannam says. "It's also the most extreme example we have of two black holes with such different spins."
Hannam claims that what was discovered in previous observations is 10 billion times faster, thus displaying Einstein's theory accurately of how space and time are twisted and deformed.
The group reanalysed data collected by three gravitational wave detectors in the United States, Italy, and Japan in 2020. A previous study found no precession; however, utilizing a more sophisticated model to take into account noise in the data, Hannam and his crew discovered that one of the black holes spinning close to the upper limit allowed by general relativity was the best explanation for the signal.
“This detection has massive astrophysical implications,” says Fabio Antonini. He wasn't involved with the work but is an astrophycist at Cardiff University. The black hole's extreme spin and misalignment with its orbit goes against current ideas about how black holes form from imploding stars-- meaning there must be another explanation for this one.
The detection also has consequences for fundamental physics. “It opens up a whole new window on testing Einstein’s theory in the strong field regime,” says Leor Barack at the University of Southampton, who also wasn’t involved in the work. For example, it may be possible to use this system to study the nature of gravitational waves in greater detail.
This is an incredible discovery that has far-reaching implications for our understanding of black holes and Einstein's theory of gravity. The extreme spin and misalignment of this black hole with its orbit challenges current ideas about black hole formation and could lead to new insights into the nature of gravitational waves.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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