A black hole collision just proved Albert Einstein’s theory as correct

Two black holes wobbling three times a second accurately proved Einstein's theory of general relativity.
Brittney Grimes
Black hole artist concept.
Black hole artist concept.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech  

A first-time observed collision between a pair of black holes, which was 10 billion times faster than previous observations, has proven Albert Einstein’s theory as correct.

The pair of black holes orbit each other, getting rid of the gravitational waves as they rotate closer to one another. However, as in the case of the precession, Einstein’s theory of general relativity indicates the way black holes can affect the precession or movement. Einstein also predicted gravitational waves in 1916 in his theory.

First observation of an extremely fast precession

The black holes showed extreme signs of wobbling, a twisting motion known as precession. This is the first time this phenomenon has ever been seen in black holes. The speed of the wobble, calculated at a rate of three times per second, is an example of a calculation made by Einstein within his general theory of relativity.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

It is the first time this prediction by Einstein was witnessed by scientists, seeing a precession in black holes. The outcome verified his theory through the extreme event of the two colliding black holes. Such astronomical regions of space are also called binary black holes, or systems that contain two black holes that orbit closely to one another.

“We've always thought that binary black holes can do this," said Mark Hannam, professor at Cardiff University's Gravity Exploration Institute in the UK and co-author of the study. "We have been hoping to spot an example ever since the first gravitational wave detections. We had to wait for five years and over 80 separate detections, but finally we have one!”

Gravitational waves produced

After the black holes collided, the phenomenon produced ripples that dispersed throughout the universe. These ripples created gravitational waves. After the crash, the black holes merged and released a gravitational-wave signal, which was called the GW200129. This wave had a precession rate of three times per second.

The precession happens when rotating objects change with time. Such observations have previously been seen in neutron stars that orbited each other, but those other precessions were so weak, they were only observable a few times throughout the year. The precession of the black holes was quite noticeable for the first time in history.

“It’s 10 billion times faster than what was found in earlier 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 stated.

Gathered information

Researchers at Cardiff University were able to identify the precession by reviewing data gathered in 2020 by three gravitational wave detectors located in Italy, the United States and Japan. Since the researchers were able to detect the precession from the noise in the collective data, rather than go by a prior analysis that showed no precession, they found that the best explanation for the noise was due to the black hole spinning at an “upper limit allowed by general relativity,” causing the precession.

The extreme collision and merger of the two stars is an unprecedented account that is significant in proving that Einstein's theory was right.

Researchers will begin searching the universe for additional colliding black holes, to see if this was truly a rare phenomenon, or if it's more common than they thought.

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