But like each of the other proposed formation channels for black hole mergers, the triple process has pieces that researchers still need to figure out. One central advantage of this idea is that it can be tested. Black holes that merge through the triple process should have orbits that are less circular, or more eccentric, than those of black holes that merge from an undisturbed binary system.
The rotations of black holes may also tell scientists whether a black hole merger happened because of a triple-system process. If a black hole binary system formed through the evolution of two stars without the influence of other bodies, they should be rotating and orbiting more or less in the same direction — like two ice skaters spinning clockwise as they skate clockwise around each other.
But according to the work of astrophysicists such as Dong Lai and Bin Liu of Cornell University, interference from other objects, like a third body in a triple system, can tilt the black hole orbits so that their orbital axes and rotation axes are at an angle to each other.
The effect is hard to measure directly with current technology, but researchers hope to find clever new ways to infer these rotation alignments. Get highlights of the most important news delivered to your email inbox. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected.
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