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[Slashdot] - Black Holes May Gain Mass From the Expansion of the Universe Itself


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nickwinlund77 shares a report from SciTechDaily: Since the first observation of merging black holes by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2015, astronomers have been repeatedly surprised by their large masses. Though they emit no light, black hole mergers are observed through their emission of gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Physicists originally expected that black holes would have masses less than about 40 times that of the Sun, because merging black holes arise from massive stars, which can't hold themselves together if they get too big. The LIGO and Virgo observatories, however, have found many black holes with masses greater than that of 50 suns, with some as massive as 100 suns. Numerous formation scenarios have been proposed to produce such large black holes, but no single scenario has been able to explain the diversity of black hole mergers observed so far, and there is no agreement on which combination of formation scenarios is physically viable. This new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, is the first to show that both large and small black hole masses can result from a single pathway, wherein the black holes gain mass from the expansion of the universe itself. Astronomers typically model black holes inside a universe that cannot expand. "It's an assumption that simplifies Einstein's equations because a universe that doesn't grow has much less to keep track of," said Kevin Croker, a professor at the UH Mnoa Department of Physics and Astronomy. "There is a trade-off though: predictions may only be reasonable for a limited amount of time." Because the individual events detectable by LIGO-Virgo only last a few seconds, when analyzing any single event, this simplification is sensible. But these same mergers are potentially billions of years in the making. During the time between the formation of a pair of black holes and their eventual merger, the universe grows profoundly. If the more subtle aspects of Einstein's theory are carefully considered, then a startling possibility emerges: the masses of black holes could grow in lockstep with the universe, a phenomenon that Croker and his team call cosmological coupling. The most well-known example of cosmologically-coupled material is light itself, which loses energy as the universe grows. "We thought to consider the opposite effect," said research co-author and UH Manoa Physics and Astronomy Professor Duncan Farrah. "What would LIGO -- Virgo observe if black holes were cosmologically coupled and gained energy without needing to consume other stars or gas?"

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