As first discovered by Choptuik, the black hole threshold in the space of initial data for general relativity shows both surprising structure and surprising simplicity. Universality, power-law scaling of the black hole mass, and scale echoing have given rise to the term “critical phenomena”. They are explained by the existence of exact solutions which are attractors within the black hole threshold, that is, attractors of codimension one in phase space, and which are typically self-similar. Critical phenomena give a natural route from smooth initial data to arbitrarily large curvatures visible from infinity, and are therefore likely to be relevant for cosmic censorship, quantum gravity, astrophysics, and our general understanding of the dynamics of general relativity.
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