Science 3 min read

Ringing of a Newborn Black Hole Detected for the First Time

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

For the first time, astrophysicists from MIT have detected the telltale ringing of a newborn black hole. The researchers made the exciting discovery by analyzing data gathered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

According to Albert Einstein‘s theory of general relativity, a black hole born out of the collision of two massive black holes must “ring” in the aftermath. Similar to a bell that reverberates sound waves when struck, the birth of this black hole would produce gravitational waves that will reverberate in the vacuum of space.

Einstein further predicted that the “pitch” and “decay” of these gravitational waves should signal the mass and spin of the newly-born black hole. This ringing from an infant black hole has not been detected until now, and recent observations confirmed that Einstein’s prediction was right all along.

Maximiliano Isi, a NASA Einstein Fellow in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and lead author of the research, said:

“We all expect general relativity to be correct, but this is the first time we have confirmed it in this way. This is the first experimental measurement that succeeds in directly testing the no-hair theorem. It doesn’t mean black holes couldn’t have hair. It means the picture of black holes with no hair lives for one more day.”

Newborn Black Hole Confirms Black Holes are “Hairless”

The observed ringing of the newborn black hole also supports the idea that black holes are “hairless.” The metaphor refers to another concept from the theory of relativity, which suggests that black holes only exhibit three observable properties: spin, mass, and electric charge.

All other characteristics or “hair,” as per the late physicist John Wheeler, that would fall on the event horizon will be swallowed by the black hole, making them unobservable.

By analyzing the ringing pattern produced by the newborn black hole and using Einstein’s equations, Isi and his colleagues were able to calculate the mass and spin of the infant black hole. Their calculations were found to match the measurements made by previous researchers.

The ringing observed by Isi and his team was extracted from the data collected by LIGO when it detected gravitational wave (GW150914) for the first time back in 2015.

The MIT team, together with Matthew Giesler from CalTech, cleared the noise and zoomed in on the signal, allowing them to observe a sound resembling a “chirp” that signals the merging of two black holes.

To isolate the faint ringing produced by the infant black hole, Isi and Giesler took into account the “overtones” or the short-lived tones observed following the peak of the gravitational wave signal.

“We detect an overall gravitational wave signal that’s made up of multiple frequencies, which fade away at different rates, like the different pitches that make up a sound. Each frequency or tone corresponds to a vibrational frequency of the new black hole.”

According to Isi, their findings published in Physical Review Letters demonstrate that it’s now possible to conduct this kind of studies using current technologies and instruments. He added:

“In the future, we’ll have better detectors on Earth and in space and will be able to see not just two, but tens of modes, and pin down their properties precisely. If these are not black holes as Einstein predicts, if they are more exotic objects like wormholes or boson stars, they may not ring in the same way, and we’ll have a chance of seeing them.”

Read More: Largest Black Hole Ever Observed Found 700 Million Light-Years Away

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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