Physicists discover new way to visualize warped space and time

When black holes slam into each other, the surrounding space and time surge and undulate like a heaving sea during a storm. This warping of space and time is so complicated that physicists haven’t been able to understand the details of what goes on — until now.

“We’ve found ways to visualize warped space-time like never before,” says Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

By combining theory with computer simulations, Thorne and his colleagues at Caltech, Cornell University, and the National Institute for Theoretical Physics in South Africa have developed conceptual tools they’ve dubbed tendex lines and vortex lines. Using these tools, they have discovered that black-hole collisions can produce vortex lines that form a doughnut-shaped pattern, flying away from the merged black hole like smoke rings. The researchers also found that these bundles of vortex lines—called vortexes—can spiral out of the black hole like water from a rotating sprinkler.

The researchers explain tendex and vortex lines—and their implications for black holes—in a paper that’s published online on April 11 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

These are two spiral-shaped vortexes (yellow) of whirling space sticking out of a black hole, and the vortex lines (red curves) that form the vortexes. Credit: The Caltech/Cornell SXS Collaboration

Tendex and vortex lines describe the gravitational forces caused by warped space-time. They are analogous to the electric and magnetic field lines that describe electric and magnetic forces.

Tendex lines describe the stretching force that warped space-time exerts on everything it encounters. “Tendex lines sticking out of the moon raise the tides on the earth’s oceans,” says David Nichols, the Caltech graduate student who coined the term “tendex.” The stretching force of these lines would rip apart an astronaut who falls into a black hole.

Read more here Physicists discover new way to visualize warped space and time.

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