LIGO's latest: Space ripples may untangle black hole tango

Science | AAAS | 6/1/2017 | Staff
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In their latest finds, physicists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory spotted the merger of black holes spinning in different orientations, as shown in this artist's conception.

Physicists working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have spotted a third merger of black holes, the ultra-intense gravitational fields left behind when massive stars collapse. This time, the subtle tremor of spacetime that signaled the merger also revealed a key feature of the black holes: their spins, which were out of kilter. That could help reveal how the black holes paired up in the first place.

Holes - Tornadoes - Tornados - Laura - Cadonati

"These black holes are not like two aligned tornadoes orbiting each other, but like two tilted tornados," says Laura Cadonati, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and deputy spokesperson for the 1000 scientists working with LIGO. "That may have implications for formation scenarios."

In September 2015, the gigantic LIGO detectors in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, sensed gravitational waves from two black holes weighing 29 and 36 times as much as the sun as they spiraled together and became one. Three months later, the detectors spotted a merger of lighter black holes. How such stellar-mass black holes form is no mystery: Each starts out as a huge star. It eventually runs low on hydrogen fuel and puffs up into a giant. A few hundred million years later, nuclear fusion in its core can no longer fight gravity, and it collapses into a black hole, typically generating a supernova explosion.

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But theorists struggle to explain how such black holes could form pairs. "Whatever you cook up, it has to fulfill two things," says Selma de Mink, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam. "It has to make two massive black holes, and they have to be close...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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