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Published September 15, 1994 | public
Journal Article Open

Gravitational radiation reaction for bound motion around a Schwarzschild black hole


A particle of mass μ moves, in the absence of external forces, in the geometry of a nonrotating black hole of mass M. The system (black hole plus particle) emits gravitational waves, and the particle's orbit evolves under radiation reaction. The aim of this paper is to calculate this evolution. Our calculations are carried out under the assumptions that μ/M≪1, that the orbit is bound, and that radiation reaction takes place over a time scale much longer than the orbital period. The bound orbits of the Schwarzschild spacetime can be fully characterized, apart from initial conditions, by two orbital parameters: the semi-latus rectum p, and the eccentricity e. These parameters are so defined that the turning points of the radial motion (the values of the Schwarzschild radial coordinate at which the radial component of the four-velocity vanishes) are given by r1=pM/(1+e) and r2=pM/(1-e). The units are such that G=c=1. We use the Teukolsky perturbation formalism to calculate the rates at which the gravitational waves generated by the orbiting particle remove energy and angular momentum from the system. These are then related to the rates of change of p and e, which determine the orbital evolution. We find that the radiation reaction continually decreases p, in such a way that the particle eventually plunges inside the black hole. Plunging occurs when p becomes smaller than 6+2e. (Orbits for which p<6+2e do not have a turning point at r=r1). For weak-field, slow-motion orbits (which are characterized by large values of p), the radiation reaction decreases e also. However, for strong-field fast-motion orbits (small values of p), the radiation reaction increases the eccentricity if p is sufficiently close to its minimum value 6+2e. The change of sign of de/dt can be interpreted as a precursor effect to the eventual plunging of the orbit.

Additional Information

©1994 The American Physical Society. Received 11 May 1994. For many helpful discussions we thank Amos Ori, Kip Thorne, Bill Unruh, and the members of the Caltech Relativity Group. For detailed comments on the manuscript we thank Eanna Flanagan. We also are grateful to Scott Hughes for much advice relating to our numerical computations. Part of these computations were performed at the Cornell Center for Theory and Simulation in Science and Engineering, which is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, IBM Corporation, New York State, and the Cornell Research Institute. The work presented here was supported by the National Science Foundation Grants No. AST 9114925 and AST 919475, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Grant No. NAGW-2897. E.P. acknowledges support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. He is also grateful to Roberto Balbinot for his kind hospitality at the University of Bologna, where part of the analytical calculations were carried out.


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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023