Nav: Home

Black holes and measuring gravitational waves

June 16, 2016

The supermassive black holes found at the centre of every galaxy, including our own Milky Way, may, on average, be smaller than we thought, according to work led by University of Southampton astronomer Dr Francesco Shankar.

If he and his colleagues are right, then the gravitational waves produced when they merge will be harder to detect than previously assumed. The international team of scientists published their results in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Supermassive black holes have been found lurking in the cores of all galaxies observed with high enough sensitivity. Despite this, little is known about how they formed. What is known is that the mass of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy is related to the total mass and the typical speeds (the "velocity dispersion") of the stars in its host.

The very existence of this relationship suggests a close co-evolution between black holes and their host galaxies, and understanding their origin is vital for a proper model of how galaxies and black holes form and evolve. This is because many galaxy evolution models invoke powerful winds and/or jets from the central supermassive black hole to control or even stop star formation in the host galaxy (so-called "quasar feedback"). Alternatively, multiple mergers of galaxies - and their central black holes - are also often suggested as the primary drivers behind the evolution of massive galaxies.

Despite major theoretical and observational efforts in the last decades, it remains unclear whether quasar feedback actually ever occurred in galaxies, and to what extent mergers have truly shaped galaxies and their black holes.

The new work shows that selection effects - where what is observed is not representative - have significantly biased the view of the local black hole population. This bias has led to significantly overestimated black hole masses. It suggests that modellers should look to velocity dispersion rather than stellar mass as the key to unlocking the decades-old puzzles of both quasar feedback and the history of galaxies.

With less mass than previously thought, supermassive black holes have on average weaker gravitational fields. Despite this, they were still able to power quasars, making them bright enough to be observed over distances of billions of light years.

Unfortunately, it also implies a substantial reduction in the expected gravitational wave signal detectable from pulsar timing array experiments. Ripples in spacetime that were first predicted by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity in 1915; gravitational waves were finally detected last year and announced by the LIGO team this February. The hope is that coming observatories can observe many more gravitational wave events, and that it will provide astronomers with a new technique for observing the universe.

Dr Shankar comments: "Gravitational wave astronomy is opening up an entirely new way of observing the universe. Our results though illustrate how challenging a complete census of the gravitational background could be, with the signals from the largest black holes being paradoxically among the most difficult to detect with present technology."

Researchers expect pairs of supermassive black holes, found in merging galaxies, to be the strongest sources of gravitational waves in the universe. However, the more massive the pairs, the lower the frequencies of the emitted waves, which become inaccessible to ground based interferometers like LIGO. Gravitational waves from supermassive black holes can however be detected from space via dedicated gravitational telescopes (such as the present and future ESA missions LISA pathfinder and eLISA), or by a different method using 'pulsar timing arrays'.

These devices monitor the collapsed, rapidly rotating remnants of massive stars, which have pulsating signals. Even this method though is still a few years from making a detection, according to a follow-up study by the same team expected to appear in another Monthly Notices paper later this year.
-end-


University of Southampton

Related Black Holes Articles:

Supermassive black holes found in 2 tiny galaxies
U astronomers and colleagues have found two ultra-compact dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes, the second and third such galaxies found to harbor the objects.
Stars born in winds from supermassive black holes
Observations using ESO's Very Large Telescope have revealed stars forming within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies.
Did LIGO detect black holes or gravastars?
After the first direct detection of gravitational waves that was announced last February by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and made news all over the world, Luciano Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany) and Cecilia Chirenti (Federal University of ABC in Santo André, Brazil) set out to test whether the observed signal could have been a gravastar or not.
New research reveals hundreds of undiscovered black holes
Computer simulations of a spherical collection of stars known as 'NGC 6101' reveal that it contains hundreds of black holes, until now thought impossible.
Chorus of black holes radiates X-rays
The NuSTAR mission is identifying which black holes erupt with the highest-energy X-rays.
More Black Holes News and Black Holes Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...