A gravitational phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago has been confirmed by a pair of black holes wobbling 3 times per second as they merged. The wobbling motion that occurs when two ancient black holes collide and merge into one is similar to the phenomenon known as precession. Gravity-induced orbital wobbling is a result of general relativity’s prediction about how gravity affects the fabric of space-time.
This effect had previously been observed very weakly in neutrons orbiting each other. Mark Hannam of Cardiff University, UK, and his colleagues discovered a massive effect in a pair of black holes by spinning one of them at a fifth of the speed of light at a 90-degree angle to its orbital motion, according to a study published in Nature magazine. As the block holes merged, they produced a gravitational wave known as GW200129, which carried the sign of precession occurring at a rate of three times per second.
Hannam explained, “It’s 10 billion times faster than what was found in previous measurements, so it really is the most extreme regime of Einstein’s theory where space and time are warped and distorted in completely crazy ways.”
Hannam’s team reanalyzed data collected in 2020 by three gravitational wave detectors located in the United States, Italy, and Japan to identify the wobbling. While the previous analysis found no evidence of precession, Hannam and his team believe the signal was with one of the black holes, which was spinning at nearly the maximum allowed by general relativity.
Regina Caputo, a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center research astrophysicist, defined it as “a region of space where gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape.” NASA explained that the gravity is so strong because matter is squeezed into such a small space when a star dies.
Because no light can escape from black holes, they are invisible. Space telescopes equipped with specialized tools can assist in viewing black holes as well as how stars near black holes behave differently than other stars.
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