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Emanuele Berti

Professor, Johns Hopkins University

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We decided to make a selection of classic/well written/interesting papers for our weekly group meetings this coming Spring. The goal is to read papers that can be used as examples of good scientific writing, or that made a mark in their field.

I spent some time thinking about papers I really enjoyed reading, and/or papers that I consider important, and this is the result: a gravitational theory equivalent of High fidelity best-of lists!

Kip Thorne’s 1987 notes on technical writing may be outdated on the computing aspects, but they are still fantastic otherwise.

Papers on gravity and general relativity

The ADM paper. From the editorial note by Jorge Pullin: “it is unusual to find a paper that is still playing such a direct and influential role in such a broad range of modern research topics close to fifty years after its publication.”

The must-read ones are Paper I and Paper II.

The famous “mass without mass” paper. Geons turned out to be unstable, but it’s a fascinating read.

A classic paper on the Dirac equation in curved spacetime.

Another classic Wheeler-school paper introducing boson stars. Can we have self-gravitating boson systems in GR? Could be complemented with Colpi-Shapiro-Wasserman.

Introduces the idea of primordial black holes. Short but sweet, and very influential.

A classic paper and a great read. See also the follow-up.

Another classic. See also work by Erickcek-Kamionkowski-Benson, Supermassive black hole merger rates: uncertainties from halo merger theory.

What is the maximum mass of a neutron star? A simple idea, and the conclusions still hold up very well (see the 1996 Kalogera-Baym “revision”).

One of Wald’s most important papers (1600 citations!)

Two “seminal” papers on spontaneous scalarization, i.e. how to identify theories that are compatible with GR in the weak field, but differ in the strong field.

This goes well beyond black hole physics. It’s a beautiful paper with lots of physics (and history).

A “derivation” of the Einstein equations from thermodynamics.

This was motivated by the “superkick” discovery, but it has a very nice intro and can be used for an interesting discussion on gravitoelectromagnetism. See also Maartens-Bassett, Gravito-electromagnetism.

Progress on the variational principle in GR. “We present a complete discussion of the boundary term in the action functional of general relativity when the boundary includes null segments in addition to the more usual timelike and spacelike segments.” Already 200+ citations!

“An introduction to causal properties of General Relativity. Topics include the Raychaudhuri equation, singularity theorems of Penrose and Hawking, the black hole area theorem, topological censorship, and the Gao-Wald theorem.” May span a whole series of group meetings if we decide to dive into it.

Papers on black holes

This paper started a whole research field. Allegedly Wheeler wrote the text and Regge filled in the equations.

Completes the Regge-Wheeler analysis. An impressive feat and compulsory reading (beware of typos).

These papers are the basis for the perturbation theory of Kerr black holes. Seminal and beautifully written.

Needs no introduction…

Derives an upper limit to the spin of a black hole achievable by accretion.

The first end-to-end calculation of gravitational waves from a black hole. A classic, lots of deep physics.

The paper that introduced the idea of quasinormal modes (in the WKB approximation).

Elegant calculation of quasinormal modes using standard techniques in ODE analysis. Points out why this is difficult.

Beautiful resolution of the difficulties using analytical techniques developed in the early days of quantum theory for the hydrogen ion.

Arguably the best paper ever written about black hole perturbation theory.

Lots of physical insight into the problem using WKB and asymptotic matching techniques.

This was “inspired” by a nice toy model.

Most of the literature on “gravitational wave echoes” is based on ideas developed in this (not so well-known) paper.

These papers solve the problem of radiation from particles in eccentric orbits around nonrotating black holes. They are a technical tour de force, full of clever tricks, and beautifully written.

Very technical papers exploiting techniques introduced by Leaver (hypergeometric functions and Coulomb wave functions). They make crucial mathematical progress that has been used countless times afterwards.

This is basically the olympic team of gravitational theorists in Japan getting together to write a review on black hole perturbations. All of the physics is here.

This was for many years the one and only simulation of collapse leading to black hole formation and observing quasinormal modes of the remnant black hole. The rumor is that Stark (the main author) apparently left research after this paper and no one could reproduce it for a long time.

These “mass inflation” papers are crucial to understand black hole interiors. See also Cardoso et al., Quasinormal Modes and Strong Cosmic Censorship for recent developments.

A classic paper on particle orbits and physics around rotating black holes.

This Nature paper introduced some key ideas based on superradiance: the “black hole bomb” and “floating orbits”. See also Cardoso et al., The black hole bomb and superradiant instabilities.

Friedman showed mathematically that any object with an ergoregion and no horizon must be unstable. This is a great paper that takes that idea and runs with it. Lots of physical insight. The effective potential plots are very illuminating.

Another classic paper on superradiance, which shows that bosons form hydrogen-like atomic states around black holes. Dolan’s Instability of the massive Klein-Gordon field on the Kerr spacetime uses Leaver’s techniques and completes the analysis.

This paper places all of the previous papers in a modern context and uses them to constrain ultralight bosons. It’s part of a series of very nice papers.

Excellent paper improving on parts of the analysis in the Arvanitaki papers and studying effects in binary systems. See also Baumann-Chia-Porto-Stout, Gravitational Collider Physics.

Classic paper on the thin-disk model for accretion. This is only available from the Black Holes: Les Astres Occlus book - or Kip’s webpage, see link above.

Classic paper on accretion.

This is a difficult read. See newer papers, in particular Gralla-Jacobson, Spacetime approach to force-free magnetospheres and Armas et al., Consistent Blandford-Znajek Expansion.

This paper is an attempt to explain the Blandford-Znajek process in a more physical way, and eventually developed into the Membrane paradigm book.

Fun read. It’s written for American Journal of Physics, so it’s very pedagogical and well written. I like also the book by Visser, Lorentzian wormholes.

These papers on relativistic tidal Love numbers contain important results on relativistic tidal deformations in binary systems with black holes and/or neutron stars.

Possibly the first important “physics” result to emerge from numerical relativity (discovery of critical phenomena). See also the Living Review by Gundlach and Martin-Garcia.

Papers on gravitational waves

A classic paper by Detweiler illustrating the principle behind PTAs.

Kip’s “physical explanation” of the memory effect discovered by Christodoulou. See also Wiseman-Will, Christodoulou’s nonlinear gravitational-wave memory: Evaluation in the quadrupole approximation.

Also known as “the bible”. Kip’s summary of all possible ways to generalize spherical harmonics to tensors. I can name people who spent years on this paper…

“This paper derives the largest corrections to the geodesic law of motion and Fermi-Walker law of transport. These corrections are due to coupling of the body’s angular momentum and quadrupole moment to the Riemann curvature of the surrounding spacetime.” Not an easy paper to read. See also the Apostolatos+ paper below.

The Nature paper on compact binaries as standard sirens to measure the Hubble constant. Short and very well written.

An important analytic solution for cosmic strings.

An important follow-up is Finn-Chernoff, Observing binary inspiral in gravitational radiation: One interferometer. These seminal papers are a clear exposition of the basic statistical principles behind gravitational-wave detection.

For a long time “the” reference summary on coalescing binaries. Short and dense.

This is the “bible” on gravitational wave parameter estimation. Not short but very clear. All the basics on gravitational wave observations from compact binaries are here.

Again on parameter estimation. IMHO, this is how a paper should be written. Self-contained and super clear.

The first systematic study of the relative role of inspiral, merger and ringdown. Eanna and Scott were both students/early career at the time. Lots of back-of-the-envelope estimates, lots of ear whispering from Kip.

Painstakingly detailed and insightful description of spin precession in compact binaries. Lots of beautiful drawings by Kip.

The paper explaining how LISA can localize sources in the sky.

One of the most remarkable (and best written) papers on gravitational wave data analysis, it introduces in a pedagogical way lots of interesting and useful techniques, including Pade’ approximants and analytical maximization over phase and time of arrival.

This paper, together with Transition from inspiral to plunge in binary black hole coalescences, set the foundations for the effective-one-body model.

Applies techniques from Poisson-Will and Cutler to do what the title says.

Black hole spectroscopy with ringdown (deals with LISA, but really applies also to LIGO/Virgo).

The famous first simulation of a binary black hole merger.

Gets lots of physics out of equal-mass simulations by Pretorius.

Similar to the BCP paper above, but for unequal-mass binaries.

Slightly outdated but beautifully written paper on “matching” the post-Newtonian expansion with numerical simulations.

Everything you ever wanted to know about families of post-Newtonian approximants (but did not dare to ask).

In the analysis of compact binaries one often uses the stationary phase approximation. But is it accurate? This is a technical paper, but it’s quite pedagogic and the technique has applications beyond gravitational wave astronomy.

Some astrophysics papers of interest for gravitational wave astronomy

A classic series of papers. Important for cluster dynamics, dark matter, etcetera.

A very nice paper using basic Newtonian physics to explain how binaries “get their kicks”.

Here are some papers on massive black hole formation/evolution:

Short but super-dense paper introducing the “final parsec problem”.

The “direct collapse” model for black hole seeds.

Semianalytic models of massive black hole formation.

Combines semianalytic models and fitting formulas from numerical relativity to establish qualitative relations between spin magnitude and growth by accretion/merger. For more recent/improved models, see e.g. Sesana+, Linking the Spin Evolution of Massive Black Holes to Galaxy Kinematics.