General-relativistic precession in a black-hole binary

Mark Hannam*, Charlie Hoy, Jonathan E. Thompson, Stephen Fairhurst, Vivien Raymond, Marta Colleoni, Derek Davis, Héctor Estellés, Carl Johan Haster, Adrian Helmling-Cornell, Sascha Husa, David Keitel, T. J. Massinger, Alexis Menéndez-Vázquez, Kentaro Mogushi, Serguei Ossokine, Ethan Payne, Geraint Pratten, Isobel Romero-Shaw, Jam SadiqPatricia Schmidt, Rodrigo Tenorio, Richard Udall, John Veitch, Daniel Williams, Anjali Balasaheb Yelikar, Aaron Zimmerman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The general-relativistic phenomenon of spin-induced orbital precession has not yet been observed in strong-field gravity. Gravitational-wave observations of binary black holes (BBHs) are prime candidates, as we expect the astrophysical binary population to contain precessing binaries1,2. Imprints of precession have been investigated in several signals3–5, but no definitive identification of orbital precession has been reported in any of the 84 BBH observations so far5–7 by the Advanced LIGO and Virgo detectors8,9. Here we report the measurement of strong-field precession in the LIGO–Virgo–Kagra gravitational-wave signal GW200129. The binary’s orbit precesses at a rate ten orders of magnitude faster than previous weak-field measurements from binary pulsars10–13. We also find that the primary black hole is probably highly spinning. According to current binary population estimates, a GW200129-like signal is extremely unlikely, and therefore presents a direct challenge to many current binary-formation models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-655
Number of pages4
Issue number7933
Early online date12 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank T. Dent, S. Ghosh, E. Hamilton, P. Kolitsidou, L. London and F. Ohme for discussions; and K. Riles for guidance during the internal LIGO review process. The authors were supported in part by Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) grant ST/V00154X/1 and European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant 647839. Calculations were performed using the supercomputing facilities at Cardiff University operated by Advanced Research Computing at Cardiff (ARCCA) on behalf of the Cardiff Supercomputing Facility and the HPC Wales and Supercomputing Wales (SCW) projects. We acknowledge the support of the latter, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) via the Welsh Government. In part, the computational resources at Cardiff University were also supported by STFC grant ST/I006285/1. We are also grateful for computational resources provided by LIGO Laboratory and supported by National Science Foundation Grants PHY-0757058 and PHY-0823459. This material is based on work supported by NSF’s LIGO Laboratory, which is a major facility fully funded by the National Science Foundation. This research has made use of data, software and/or web tools obtained from the Gravitational Wave Open Science Center (, a service of LIGO Laboratory, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration. LIGO is funded by the US National Science Foundation. Virgo is funded by the French Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the Italian Istituto Nazionale della Fisica Nucleare (INFN) and the Dutch Nikhef, with contributions by Polish and Hungarian institutes. Plots were prepared with Matplotlib59, GWpy60and PESummary61. Parameter estimation was performed with the LALInference37and LALSimulation libraries within LALSuite62, as well as the BILBY63 ,64and PBILBY41libraries and the DYNESTY nested sampling package42. NumPy65, Scipy66and Positive67 ,68were used during the analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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