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Gravitational waves show black holes prefer certain masses before they collide

A preference for "universal masses" 9 and 16 times the mass of our Sun have been identified in the gravitational-wave events detected so far.

Black holes have a preference for forming around two "universal" masses equivalent to about nine and 16 times the mass of our sun, according to a new study of the frequency of the gravitational-wave ‘chirps’ released when two black holes collide and merge. These findings could ultimately pave the way for an independent measure of the expansion of the Universe.

Since 2015, 90 gravitational-wave events have been identified by detectors at sites specifically built to find these information-rich ripples in spacetime. This includes laboratories such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US, its sister site, Virgo, in Italy and the Kamioka Gravitational-Wave Detector (KAGRA) in Japan. Each merger produces what's known as a chirp, which is a blast of gravitational waves that rapidly increase in frequency as two black holes spiral closer and closer around one another before colliding and merging. The frequency and amplitude of this chirp is connected to the mass of the black holes that have merged; their combined mass is sometimes referred to as the "chirp mass."

"When two black holes merge, they produce gravitational waves that can be 'heard' on Earth," Eva Laplace, an astrophysicist at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany and an author on the study, told "By listening to these chirps and analyzing them, it is possible to measure the combined mass of distant merging black holes."

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