Gravitational Waves Reveal Surprising Secrets About Neutron Stars

The confirmation of gravitational waves back in 2017 continues to unlock whole new worlds of physics but also continues to elicit further questions.  The detection of each gravitational wave brings a new challenge – how to find out what caused the event.  Sometimes that is harder than it sounds.  Now a team led by Alejandro Vigna-Gomez of the University of Copenhagen thinks they found a model of star death that helps to explain some previously inexplicable findings – and points to a galaxy with many more massive neutron stars than previously thought.

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Next-Generation Gravitational Wave Observatories Could Detect the First Stars When They Exploded as Supernovae

From the Ashes of the First Stars

The first stars to appear in the universe are no longer with us – they died long ago. But when they died they released torrents of gravitational waves, which might still be detectable as a faint hum in the background vibrations of the cosmos.

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On its Next run, LIGO Will be Able to Probe 8 Times as Much Space

Materials science has once again come through for space exploration.  Researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have developed a coating that could increase the sensitivity of LIGO by almost an order of magnitude.  That would increase the detection rate of the gravitational waves the observatory is seeking from about once a week to once a day, mainly due to the increased volume of space that the observatory’s interferometers would be able to collect signals from.

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A Gravitational Wave Observatory on the Moon Could "Hear" 70% of the Observable Universe

Gravitational-wave astronomy is set to revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos. In only a few years it has significantly enhanced our understanding of black holes, but it is still a scientific field in its youth. That means there are still serious limitations to what can be observed.

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Astronomers Detected a Black Hole-Neutron Star Merger, and Then Another Just 10 Days Later

The interior of a neutron star is perhaps the strangest state of matter in the universe. The material is squeezed so tightly that atoms collapse into a sea of nuclear material. We still aren’t sure whether nucleons maintain their integrity in this state, or whether they dissolve into quark matter. To really understand neutron star matter we need to pull it apart to see how it works and to do that takes a black hole. This is why astronomers are excited about the recent discovery of not one, but two mergers between a neutron star and a black hole.

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It Could be Possible to see Gravitational Wave Lenses

In February 2016, LIGO detected gravity waves for the first time. As this artist's illustration depicts, the gravitational waves were created by merging black holes. The third detection just announced was also created when two black holes merged. Credit: LIGO/A. Simonnet.

Gravitational-wave astronomy is very different from that of electromagnetic light. While gravitational waves are faint and difficult to detect, they also pass through matter with little effect. In essence, the material universe is transparent to gravitational waves. This makes gravitational wave astronomy a powerful tool when studying the universe. But it’s still in the early stages, and there is much to learn about how gravitational waves behave.

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Gaia Might Even be Able to Detect the Gravitational Wave Background of the Universe

Embry-Riddle researchers used data captured by the Gaia satellite (shown here in an artist’s impression) to determine the ages of stars. Credit: European Space Agency – D. Ducros, 2013

The Gaia spacecraft is an impressive feat of engineering. Its primary mission is to map the position and motion of more than a billion stars in our galaxy, creating the most comprehensive map of the Milky Way thus far. Gaia collects such a large amount of precision data that it can make discoveries well beyond its main mission. For example, by looking at the spectra of stars, astronomers can measure the mass of individual stars to within 25% accuracy. From the motion of stars, astronomers can measure the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way. Gaia can also discover exoplanets when they pass in front of a star. But one of the more surprising uses is that Gaia could help us detect cosmic gravitational waves.

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An Exotic Explanation for the Most Extreme Gravitational Wave Detected so far

In May of 2019, the gravitational wave observatories LIGO and Virgo detected the merger of two black holes. One had a mass of 85 Suns, while the other was 66 solar masses. The event was named GW190521 and was the largest merger yet observed. It produced a 142 solar mass black hole, making it the first gravitational wave observation of an intermediate mass black hole. But the event also raised several questions.

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Physicists Figure out how to Make Gravitational Wave Detectors “Hear” 6x More Universe

Gravitational wave detectors are limited by fundamental quantum noise – an incessant “hum” that they cannot ever remove. But now physicists have recently improved a technique, called “squeezing”, that can allow the next generation of detectors to double their sensitivity.

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All The Gravitational Waves Detected So Far

Few events in the astronomy community were received with more fanfare than the first detection of gravitational waves, which took place on September 14th, 2015.  Since then, different events have been recorded using the same techniques.  Many include data from other observational platforms, as the events that normally create gravitational waves are of interest to almost everyone in the astronomical community.  Black hole and neutron star mergers and the like provide a plethora of data to understand the physics that happen under such extreme conditions.

To distribute that data equitably, researchers at LIGO, one of the main observatories for gravitational waves, have released a data set that contains information about all 50 confirmed gravitational wave events that have taken place since observations began.  What’s more, a team from the Cardiff University made a tool that makes it much easier to navigate the data.  

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