Scientists are still studying black holes to unlock all their mysteries. New research is out from an international team of researchers that provides solutions to decades-old equations describing one of the universe’s most powerful events. The collision of two spinning, orbiting black holes.

The researchers write in their study abstract, “Our new results will help efforts to model and interpret gravitational waves from generic binary black hole mergers (BBH) and predict the distributions of final spins and gravitational recoils.”

Planets orbiting a star are a lot different than two black holes orbiting each other in a binary system. Take planets in our solar system for example. The average distance between Mercury (and other planets) and the sun does not change.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts two black holes orbiting each other will move closer as the binary system produces gravitational waves. These gravitational waves leads to the black holes orbiting closer and closer until they collide and merge.

This merger produces one of the most energetic events in the universe. And, one we can’t see. The energy produced comes in the form of gravitational waves, not visible light. Einstein also predicted gravitational waves, but they have never been directly detected.

Detected gravitational waves would open up a whole new field for astronomers. “Using gravitational waves as an observational tool, you could learn about the characteristics of the black holes that were emitting those waves billions of years ago, information such as their masses and mass ratios, and the way they formed” said co-author and PhD student Davide Gerosa, of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. “That’s important data for more fully understanding the evolution and nature of the universe.”

The detection of them could be about to happen. Upgrades to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave-Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. and VIRGO in Europe will be finished later this year. The first direct observations of gravitational waves could come soon after.

Co-author Dr. Ulrich Sperhake talked about the importance of their research for helping LIGO and VIRGO detect gravitational waves. “The equations that we solved will help predict the characteristics of the gravitational waves that LIGO would expect to see from binary black hole mergers,” said Sperhake. “We’re looking forward to comparing our solutions to the data that LIGO collects.”

These equations deal with the rotation of binary black holes. “Like a spinning top, black hole binaries change their direction of rotation over time, a phenomenon known as procession,” said Sperhake. “The behaviour of these black hole spins is a key part of understanding their evolution.”

The team also created computer simulations “that follow black hole evolution over billions of years,” according to lead author Dr. Michael Kesden.

Researchers will be able to use their equations, simulations and upgraded observatories to provide new insights into binary black holes.

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