What Does it Take to Make Black Holes Collide?

Simulation of the emitted light from a supermassive black hole binary system. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

In a recent study published in Astronomy and Astrophysical Letters, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used various computer models to examine 69 confirmed binary black holes to help determine their origin, and found their data results changed based on the model’s configurations, and the researchers wish to better understand both how and why this occurs and what steps can be taken to have more consistent results.

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Shortly Before They Collided, two Black Holes Tangled Spacetime up Into Knots

A binary black hole system, viewed from above. Image Credit: Bohn et al. (see http://arxiv.org/abs/1410.7775)

In February 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves (GWs). Originally predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, these waves are ripples in spacetime that occur whenever massive objects (like black holes and neutron stars) merge. Since then, countless GW events have been detected by observatories across the globe – to the point where they have become an almost daily occurrence. This has allowed astronomers to gain insight into some of the most extreme objects in the Universe.

In a recent study, an international team of researchers led by Cardiff University observed a binary black hole system originally detected in 2020 by the Advanced LIGO, Virgo, and Kamioki Gravitational Wave Observatory (KAGRA). In the process, the team noticed a peculiar twisting motion (aka. a precession) in the orbits of the two colliding black holes that was 10 billion times faster than what was noted with other precessing objects. This is the first time a precession has been observed with binary black holes, which confirms yet another phenomenon predicted by General Relativity (GR).

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A Highly Eccentric Black Hole Merger Detected for the First Time

Credit: RIT

In February 2016, scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) confirmed the first-ever detection of a gravitational wave event. Originally predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, GWs result from mergers between massive objects – like black holes, neutron stars, and supermassive black holes (SMBHs). Since 2016, dozens of events have been confirmed, opening a new window to the Universe and leading to a revolution in astronomy and cosmology.

In another first, a team of scientists led by the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (CCRG) announced that they may have detected a merger of two black holes with eccentric orbits for the first time. According to the team’s paper, which recently appeared in Nature Astronomy, this potential discovery could explain why some of the black hole mergers detected by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration are much heavier than previously expected.

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All The Gravitational Waves Detected So Far

Few events in the astronomy community were received with more fanfare than the first detection of gravitational waves, which took place on September 14th, 2015.  Since then, different events have been recorded using the same techniques.  Many include data from other observational platforms, as the events that normally create gravitational waves are of interest to almost everyone in the astronomical community.  Black hole and neutron star mergers and the like provide a plethora of data to understand the physics that happen under such extreme conditions.

To distribute that data equitably, researchers at LIGO, one of the main observatories for gravitational waves, have released a data set that contains information about all 50 confirmed gravitational wave events that have taken place since observations began.  What’s more, a team from the Cardiff University made a tool that makes it much easier to navigate the data.  

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Astronomers Detected a Black Hole Merger With Very Different Mass Objects

Still image from a numerical simulation of an unequal mass binary black hole merger, with parameters consistent with GW190412. [Image credit: N. Fischer, H. Pfeiffer, A. Buonanno (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics), Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes project]

In another first, scientists at the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors announced a signal unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. While many black hole mergers have been detected thanks to LIGO and Virgo’s international network for detectors, this particular signal (GW190412) was the first where the two black holes had distinctly different masses.

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It Looks Like LIGO/Virgo Have Detected a Black Hole Eating a Neutron Star. For the First Time Ever

A new signal detected by LIGO/Virgo may be the so-called ‘holy grail’ of astrophysics: the merger of a neutron star and a black hole. They’ve discovered pairs of black holes merging, and pairs of neutron stars merging, but until now, not a neutron star-black hole pair.

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LIGO Just Got a Big Upgrade, Will Begin Searching for Gravitational Waves Again on April 1st

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory is made up of two detectors, this one in Livingston, La., and one near Hanford, Wash. The detectors use giant arms in the shape of an "L" to measure tiny ripples in the fabric of the universe. Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

In February of 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made history by announcing the first-ever detection of gravitational waves (GWs). These ripples in the very fabric of the Universe, which are caused by black hole mergers or white dwarfs colliding, were first predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity roughly a century ago.

About a year ago, LIGO’s two facilities were taken offline so its detectors could undergo a series of hardware upgrades. With these upgrades now complete, LIGO recently announced that the observatory will be going back online on April 1st. At that point, its scientists are expecting that its increased sensitivity will allow for “almost daily” detections to take place.

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Searching For Gravitational Waves

Two-dimensional representation of gravitational waves generated by two neutron stars surrounding each other. Credit: NASA

[/caption]Colliding neutron stars and black holes, supernova events, rotating neutron stars and other cataclysmic cosmic events… Einstein predicted they would all have something in common – oscillations in the fabric of space-time. This summer European scientists have joined forces to prove Einstein was right and capture evidence of the existence of gravitational waves.

Europe’s two ground-based gravitational wave detectors GEO600 (a German/UK collaboration) and Virgo (a collaboration between Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary) are underway with a joint observation program which will continue over the summer, ending in September 2011. The detectors consist of a pair of joined arms placed in a horizontal L-shaped configuration. Laser beams are then passed down the arms. Suspended under vacuum at the ends of the arms is a mirror which returns the beam to a central photodetector. The detectors work by measuring tiny changes (less than the diameter of a proton), caused by a passing gravitational wave, in the lengths (hundreds or thousands of meters). The periodic stretching and shrinking of the arms is then recorded as interference patterns.

Much like our human ears are able to distinguish the direction of sound from being spaced apart, so having interferometers placed at different locations benefits the chances of picking up a gravitational wave signal. By placing receivers at a distance, this also helps to eliminate the chances of picking up a mimicking terrestrial signal, since it would be unlikely for it to have the same characteristics at two locations while a genuine signal would remain the same.

“If you compare GEO600 and Virgo, you can see that both detectors have similar sensitivities at high frequencies, at around 600Hz and above”, says Dr Hartmut Grote, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) and the Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. “That makes it very interesting for us to search this band for possible gravitational waves associated with supernovae or gamma-ray bursts that are observed with conventional telescopes.”

Of all phenomena, gamma-ray bursts are expected to be one of the strongest sources of gravitational waves. As the most luminous transient event in the known Universe, this collapse of a supermassive star core into a neutron star or black hole may be the most perfect starting point for the search. As of now, the frequencies will depend on the mass and may extend up to the kHz band. But don’t get too excited, because the nature of gravitational wave signals is weak and chances of picking up on it is low. However, thanks to Virgo’s excellent sensitivity at low frequencies (below 100 Hz), it is a prime candidate for gathering signals from isolated pulsars where the gravitational wave signal frequency should be at around 22Hz.

And we’ll be listening for the results…

Original Story Source: Albert Einstein Institute News.