Sci-tech

LIGO opens new windows into universe with third detection of gravitational waves

LIGO opens new windows into universe with third detection of gravitational waves

A third gravitational wave has been detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) after the merging of two black holes galaxy three billion light-years away, scientists say.

"With the third definite detection of from a coalescing black hole binary, we have discovered a new class of astrophysical sources to test Einstein's theory of general relativity in extreme conditions", Bala Iyer, the Principal Investigator of the Indian team in LIGO said. The pipeline takes the noisy data collected by the LIGO detector and processes it to estimate the precise shape of the gravitational wave signal, independent of any preconceived ideas of what those signals should look like. "A new astronomy of gravitational waves". The three confirmed detections by LIGO (GW150914, GW151226, GW170104), and one lower-confidence detection (LVT151012), point to a population of stellar-mass binary black holes that, once merged, are larger than 20 solar masses - larger than what was known before.

The modeling of the waveforms detected in the recent LIGO observation, said Cadonati, "disfavor" such an effect, and indicate that the spins of the two black holes were more likely tilted with respect to their orbits around one another. The new signal, detected in January and reported today in Physical Review Letters, deepens the riddle of how black holes come to collide. It featured a resulting black hole with a mass 49 times that of our sun, filling a gap between the first and second gravitational wave observations (which documented black holes with 62 and 21 solar masses respectively). Two times the mass of Earth's sun was converted directly into energy in a fraction of a second. The black circles each represent one of the simulated black holes.

The cores of even more massive stars can collapse past the neutron star state, disappearing from the observable universe.

"Before our discoveries we didn't even know for sure that these black holes existed", says Laura Cadonati of Georgia Tech University.

As those two bowling balls - which represent black holes in this analogy - spin around one another, they create ripples in the sheet. "This is the first time that we have evidence that the black holes may not be aligned, giving us just a tiny hint that binary black holes may form in dense stellar clusters", said Sathyaprakash. In that case, the spins would be more randomly oriented.

The new finding is also important because it was possible to calculate whether the colliding black holes were spinning in the same direction as they were circling each other in their orbit before the collision, or in a different direction.

Animation of the inspiral and collision of two black holes consistent with the masses and spins of GW170104. "We have found a new tile to put in the puzzle of understanding the formation mechanism". Albert Einstein predicted their presence in his general theory of relatively in 1915.

The waves would spread out in all directions, traveling at or near the speed of light. As users gain more experience, they advance to more challenging levels containing glitches that sophisticated computer algorithms have deemed more hard to classify.

Researchers estimate that the bodies in the latest collision were slightly lighter than those in the first event: one had the mass of 31 Suns and the other 19.

The observatory has forced open a new window on the universe, allowing scientists to hear from distant cosmic reaches - places where conventional telescopes come up empty.

The senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said LIGO Livingston and LIGO Hanover, in Washington state, both detected the waves on January 4. "But unlike a calm pond, spacetime is actually dynamic and so can stretch, curve and bend in response to mass and energy in the universe".

Einstein himself wavered on whether gravitational waves existed beyond the math of his own formulas, and he died doubting whether anyone could ever invent a device fine-tuned enough to ever perceive them if they really did exist.

By way of analogy, Landry likened spacetime to the canvas of a painting.

"I think what we can say", he concluded, "is that by the mid-2020s, we will have quite a network of detectors". Photons are quanta of light; gravitons would be quanta of gravitational waves. The Louisiana observatory, in the town of Livingston, and the Hanford center, consist of two and half mile-long, L-shaped tunnels containing a complicated laser and mirror instrument. Presently, LIGO can only measure one of the polarizations and therefore obtains only limited information about the orientation of the binary.

Glitches appear to volunteers as pictures on the computer screen in a wide range of morphologies, or forms, and can mimic true gravitational-wave signals. Typically, stellar winds steadily blow away mass as a star ages, leading to a smaller black hole. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project.


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