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Physicists have a new tool to picture how black holes warp the fabric of space-time around them. Just as magnetic field lines show how magnetic forces vary in space, a new study suggests that "tendex" and "vortex" lines show how gravity warps space.

The technique offers new insight into why some black holes get a kick after undergoing a merger, and could help in the search for gravitational waves.

Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that space-time deforms around massive objects, such as black holes. But this warping is notoriously difficult to visualise, since the theory states that each point in space-time is associated with 10 different numbers.

Now a team of physicists led by Robert Owen of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says relatively simple patterns of lines can capture its essence, providing a new perspective on phenomena such as merging black holes and gravitational waves.

"We've found ways to visualise warped space-time like never before," says team member Kip Thorne of Caltech in Pasadena.

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Category: Science