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Tag archives: gravitational waves

New cosmic messengers, and what they can tell us

Bartos-multimessenger-astronomyBy Margaret Harris

Immediately after last year’s announcement that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) had seen its first gravitational waves, a lot of the discussion centred on what the discovery meant for general relativity.  This was understandable: getting further confirmation of Einstein’s century-old theory was (and is) a big deal.  But in the longer term, and as the LIGO detectors notch up a few more observations (they’re currently crunching data on six new candidates), the emphasis will shift away from the waves themselves, and towards what they can tell us about the universe.

The key thing to realize here is that gravitational waves are fundamentally different from other, better-studied cosmic “messengers” that travel to Earth from distant reaches of the universe.  Unlike photons, gravitational waves are not impeded by clouds of gas or dust; unlike cosmic rays, they are not deflected by electromagnetic fields. In addition, some of the most dramatic astrophysical events, such as the merger of two black holes in empty space, are “dark” or “silent” to other messengers: these events produce gravitational waves in copious quantities, but not, as far as we know, anything else.

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How LIGO got the word out about gravitational waves

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social media plan before announcing the detection (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social-media plan before announcing the detection. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh

Nowadays, social media plays a big role in communicating science to the public. It has two important qualities – it’s free and it’s international.  A great case study for social media and science came last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves. To tell us more about how the team grabbed the public’s attention (and got its work on Sheldon Cooper’s T-shirt in The Big Bang Theory), LIGO scientist Amber Stuver gave a witty talk at the APS March Meeting 2017 about the outreach strategy.

She began by telling us the story of that exciting detection day. Before the first detection, LIGO had published 80 papers on “detecting nothing”.  Yet on 14 September 2015 – the first morning of the first day of Advanced LIGO – the much-sought-after signal appeared. The first thing that had to be done was to check it wasn’t a fake. Having detected nothing for so long, those with the knowledge to do so would sometimes “inject” results to check the system worked and keep the scientists on their toes.

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Physics World visits LIGO Livingston

(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Wave sign: the secluded road that leads to LIGO Livingston. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

 

By Tushna Commissariat and Sarah Tesh at LIGO Livingston, Louisiana, US

Being a journalist can be a busy and often stressful job, especially as deadlines loom fast and furious. But one of the best perks of the job is the chance to meet some amazing people and visit some of the best scientific facilities in the world. As most regualr readers of Physics World will know, we – Sarah and Tushna – have been in New Orleans, Lousiana for the APS March Meeting 2017. And it just so happens that about a two-hour drive away from New Orleans lies one half of one of the most advanced experiments in the world – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) at Livingston.

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Waking up to a gravitational wave


By Hamish Johnston

Yesterday we announced the winner of the Physics World 2016 Breakthrough of the Year, which went to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration for its revolutionary, first ever direct observations of gravitational waves. I caught up with six LIGO scientists in the above video Hangout and asked them what it was like when they first realized that they had detected gravitational waves emanating from two coalescing black holes 1.3 billion light-years away.

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Chasing gravitational waves in song, physicists on Broadway, the ‘impossible space engine’ returns

 

By Hamish Johnston

These days anyone making a major breakthrough in physics is expected to follow-up with a cheesy music video. So give it up for The Mavericks and “Chasing the Waves”, which chronicles the quest to detect gravitational waves – which culminated in LIGO’s success earlier this year. I don’t much about this video, but it seems to have been filmed at the University of Glasgow, which is part of the LIGO collaboration.

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The beauty of gravitational waves

Painting by Penelope Cowley depicting gravitational waves is being unveiled at Cardiff University's school of physics and astronomy on 25 November 2016

Science meets art – this painting by Penelope Cowley will be unveiled at Cardiff University’s school of physics and astronomy on 25 November.

By Matin Durrani

A new painting by Welsh artist Penelope Cowley is the latest attempt to bring art and science together. Set to be unveiled on Friday 25 November at Cardiff University’s school of physics and astronomy, the 1.2 × 1.5 m picture was inspired by the recent detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO collaboration.

According to the university, the oil painting “combines a visualization of data taken from the equipment used to detect the first gravitational waves…with an imagination of some of the celestial bodies that are responsible for creating these waves, such as binary black holes and neutron stars”.

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Cosmic messengers and the rise of neutrino astronomy

Marek Kowalski talking at the Neutrino 2016 conference

Cool operator: Marek Kowalski talking about IceCube at the Neutrino 2016 conference. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat at the Royal Geographical Society in London

“There are still many things to be studied in neutrinos,” said 2015 Nobel laureate Takaaki Kajita at the first talk of the Neutrino 2016 conference that began in London today. I couldn’t help but notice that his statement rang very true, as the day’s talks touched on everything from high-energy neutrinos to dark-matter searches to monitoring nuclear reactors. This year, more than 700 physicists from all over the world are attending the week-long conference, which is taking place at the historic Royal Geographical Society in London.

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George Smoot on mapping the universe with gravity

Measuring the universe: George Smoot enthuses about gravitational waves

Measuring the universe: George Smoot enthuses about gravitational waves.

By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

Yesterday I was in a fantastic session with George Smoot, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering the anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background. He will be speaking today at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting about another important astronomical discovery, the first direct detection of gravitational waves that was made by LIGO in September 2015. Waves that were created by the merger of two unexpectedly large black holes.

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Second wave: all about LIGO, black holes, gravitational ripples and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

What an exciting week it has been, as the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced that they have definitely detected a second gravitational wave event using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO) in the US.  These waves made their way into aLIGO early on Boxing Day last year (in fact it was still very late on Christmas Day in the US states where the twin detectors are located), a mere three months after the first gravitational-wave event was detected on 14 September 2015.

This event once again involved the collision and merger of two stellar-mass black holes, and since the “Boxing Day binary” is still on my mind, this week’s Red Folder is a collection of all the lovely images, videos, infographics and learning tools that have emerged since Wednesday.

LIGO physicist and comic artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo has drawn a cartoon showing that while the researchers were excited about the swift second wave, they were a bit spoilt by the first, which was loud and clear – and could be seen by naked eye in the data. The black holes involved in the latest wave were smaller and a bit further away, meaning the signal was fainter, but actually lasted for longer in the detectors.

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LIGO paints a clearer picture of its merging black holes

Illustration of two black holes spiralling into each other to create a larger black hole (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Illustration of two black holes spiralling into each other to create a larger black hole. (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By Hamish Johnston

Physicists working on the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors have released more information about the merging black holes that they announced the discovery of earlier this year. Dubbed GW150914, we now know that the gravitational wave was created by the merger of one black hole that was 36 times as massive as the Sun with a smaller black hole that weighed in at 29 solar masses. The result of the merger was a black hole at 62 solar masses and a spin angular momentum of 0.67, where 1.0 is the maximum value of spin a black hole can have.

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