SBU Logo CAS Logo

Dept. Logo
Prof. Farr discovers ringing black holes  

'Ringing' Black Hole Validates Einstein's General Relativity 10 Years Ahead of Schedule: Gravitational wave 'tones' detected following the merger of two black holes confirms the decades-old 'no-hair theory' of black hole properties

Will Farr, Associate Professor at Stony Brook and group leader for gravitational wave astronomy at the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City and colleagues present their findings in Physical Review Letters.

For the first time, astrophysicists have heard a black hole ringing like a bell. By reanalyzing the first black hole merger ever detected, the astrophysicists measured the gravitational wave 'tones' emitted following the event. The breakthrough comes 10 years earlier than expected and confirms that the properties of black holes are just as Einstein predicted in his theory of general relativity in 1915.

When two black holes merge into one, the resulting supersized black hole wobbles like a struck bell. These reverberations emit gravitational waves at characteristic tones that fade away as the black hole settles. The so-called 'no-hair theory' predicts that these tones - and all other external properties of a black hole - depend only on the black hole's mass and rotation. That's just as Einstein's general relativity predicts. Some scientists, though, propose that reality is hairier and that effects like quantum mechanics play a role as well.

Scientists knew that detecting a black hole's tones could settle the debate. The tones, though, were thought to be too quiet to detect using current-generation gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo.

In the new study, the astrophysicists combined simulations of black hole mergers with a reanalysis of the first gravitational waves ever detected. Those waves came from the merger two black holes. The analysis led to the identification of two independent tones emitted by the newly combined black hole. The pitch and decay rates of these tones lined up with Einstein's general relativity. The no-hair theory stood triumphant.

Farr says that with new data analysis and LIGO and Virgo continuing to observe black hole mergers, tests from the observatories will become more precise. The added precision will likely lead to additional detections of black hole tones and an improved understanding of the exotic objects.

Farr collaborated on the study with Maximiliano Isi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech astrophysicists Matt Giesler, Mark Scheel and Saul Teukolsky.

Links to all "What's new" sections: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and the latest.


Facebook   Linkedin   Address:
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-3800
Phone: (631) 632 8100
Fax: (631) 632 8176
WEB page maintained by
Axel Drees
Unless otherwise noted, all content © Department of Physics and Astronomy, Stony Brook University.