Theory predicts that gravitational-wave detectors should be able to observe a population of huge black holes. A new study explores what we’ll learn from these mysterious objects and when we can hope to find them.
A Preferred Size
A recent version of the rapidly expanding “stellar graveyard”, a plot that shows the masses of the different components of observed compact binary mergers. Click to enlarge. [LIGO-Virgo/Northwestern U./Frank Elavsky & Aaron Geller]So-called stellar-mass black holes — the black holes probed by gravitational-wave detectors like LIGO/Virgo — can theoretically span a broad range of sizes, from just a few solar masses to hundreds of times the mass of the Sun.
The LIGO/Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have discovered signals from dozens of black-hole binaries completing their final death spirals and merging. So far, these observed primary black holes have primarily fallen into a mass range below ~45 solar masses, indicating a precipitous drop in the population of binary black holes above this mass.
Artist’s impression of a supernova. Progenitor stars of a certain mass are susceptible to pair-instability supernova, preventing the formation of a black hole. [ESO/M. Kornmesser]
Avoiding an Unstable End
Why the dearth of heavier black holes? Theorists have an explanation: the ...