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Scientists Study the Physics Behind Massive Black Hole Collisions

First Posted: Feb 26, 2015 11:48 AM EST

One of the most powerful events in the universe occurs when two black holes collide. Now, scientists have taken a closer look at this event and have learned a bit more about what happens when two orbiting black holes become one.

"An accelerating charge, like an electron, produces electromagnetic radiation, including visible light waves," said Michael Kesden, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Similarly, any time you have an accelerating mass, you can produce gravitational waves. In a binary black hole system, where you have two massive objects orbiting each other and exerting forces on each other, they are accelerating and emitting gravitational waves. The energy lost to gravitational waves causes the black holes to spiral closer and closer together until they merge, which is the most energetic event in the universe."

Although Einstein's theories predict the existence of gravitational waves, they have not been directly detected. Being able to "see" gravitational waves would open up a new window to study the universe. This year, a large-scale physics experimented called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) aims to do just that.

"Using gravitational waves as an observational tool, you could learn about the characteristics of the black holes that were emitting those waves billions of years ago, information such as their masses and mass ratios," said Kesden. "That's important data for more fully understanding the evolution and nature of the universe."

In this case, Kesden has taken a step closer to understanding black holes. He managed to solve the equations that specifically deal with the spin angular momentum of binary black holes and a phenomenon called precession.

Angular momentum is a measure of the amount of rotation a spinning object has. Spin angular momentum not only includes the speed of rotation, but also the direction in which that spin points.

The findings reveals a bit more about black holes. With these solutions, researchers can create computer simulations that follow black hole evolution.

The findings are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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