How black holes get their kicks: Gravitational radiation recoil revisited

Marc Favata, Scott A. Hughes, Daniel E. Holz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Scopus citations


Gravitational waves from the coalescence of binary black holes carry away linear momentum, causing center of mass recoil. This "radiation rocket" effect has important implications for systems with escape speeds of order the recoil velocity. We revisit this problem using black hole perturbation theory, treating the binary as a test mass spiraling into a spinning hole. For extreme ratios (q ≡ m1/m2 ≪ 1), we compute the recoil for the slow in-spiral epoch of binary coalescence very accurately; these results can be extrapolated to q ∼ 0.4 with modest accuracy. Although the recoil from the final plunge contributes significantly to the final recoil, we are only able to make crude estimates of its magnitude. We find that the recoil can easily reach ∼ 100-200 km s-1 but most likely does not exceed ∼500 km s-1. Although much lower than previous estimates, this recoil is large enough to have important astrophysical consequences. These include the ejection of black holes from globular clusters, dwarf galaxies, and high-redshift dark matter halos.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L5-L8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 II
StatePublished - 20 May 2004


  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Gravitation
  • Gravitational waves


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