Spinning black holes are weird (well, all black holes are weird but those that spin are the worse!). They have a funny thing called ergoregion where orbiting particles can have negative energy. Penrose was the first to realize that this can be exploited to extract energy from the black hole itself. The thing is, even if you figure out how to do it, you’re inevitably going to spin the black hole down. At the end of the day, you’re left with a fossil black hole that does not have any spin. The mass of that leftover black hole (“What’s for lunch dear? Fancy some sushi or prefer a black hole?”) is called irreducible mass. Hawking (another giant!) figured out this has to do with thermodynamics.
Long story short, in this paper we compute the irreducible mass of the black holes detected in gravitational waves by LIGO. It was funny to re-discover that gravitational wave detection was indeed the motivation behind Hawking original proof of the area theorem (he had Weber‘s claimed detection in mind at the time). The story behind our paper starts as a toy calculation with my undergraduate student Cecilia and ended up in a neat, hopefully informative exploitation of LIGO data. We reparametrized LIGO’s black-hole properties using the rotational and rotational contributions to their total energy, we ranked current gravitational-wave events according to their “irreversibility”, and we compute a sort of population version of the area law. Enjoy!