Gamma ray Telescopes Might be Able to Detect the Gravitational Waves Caused by Merging Supermassive Black Holes

Gamma rays could be the new source for observing gravitational waves, according to a recent release from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. This would make a possible third way to observe gravitational waves including laser interferometry and radio waves.

In 1916 Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time moving out in all directions away from massive accelerating objects. According to his theory, these waves would travel at the speed of light and would carry with them information about where they came from and would allow us to learn more about gravity.

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A Highly Eccentric Black Hole Merger Detected for the First Time

Credit: RIT

In February 2016, scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) confirmed the first-ever detection of a gravitational wave event. Originally predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, GWs result from mergers between massive objects – like black holes, neutron stars, and supermassive black holes (SMBHs). Since 2016, dozens of events have been confirmed, opening a new window to the Universe and leading to a revolution in astronomy and cosmology.

In another first, a team of scientists led by the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (CCRG) announced that they may have detected a merger of two black holes with eccentric orbits for the first time. According to the team’s paper, which recently appeared in Nature Astronomy, this potential discovery could explain why some of the black hole mergers detected by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration are much heavier than previously expected.

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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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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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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.
Artist's impression of merging binary black holes. 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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What's the Connection Between Stellar-Mass Black Holes and Dark Matter?

Artist view of a black hole in the middle of solar system. Credit: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures CC0

Imagine you are a neutron star. You’re happily floating in space, too old to fuse nuclei in your core anymore, but the quantum pressure of your neutrons and quarks easily keeps you from collapsing under your own weight. You look forward to a long stellar retirement of gradually cooling down. Then one day you are struck by a tiny black hole. This black hole only has the mass of an asteroid, but it causes you to become unstable. Gravity crushes you as the black hole consumes you from the inside out. Before you know it, you’ve become a black hole.

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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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Merging Black Holes and Neutron Stars. All the Gravitational Wave Events Seen So Far in One Picture

The mergers of compact objects discovered so far by LIGO and Virgo (in O1, O2 and O3a). The diagram shows black holes (blue), neutron stars (orange) and compact objects of unknown nature (grey), which were detected by their gravitational-wave emission. Each merger of a binary system corresponds to three compact objects shown: the two merging objects and the result of the merger. A selection of black holes (violet) and neutron stars (yellow) discovered by electromagnetic observations is shown for comparison. Image Credit: LIGO Virgo Collaboration / Frank Elavsky, Aaron Geller / Northwestern

The Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of black holes and neutron stars. Einstein gets the credit for the theory because of his paper published in 1915, even though other scientists’ work helped it along. But regardless of the minds behind it, the theory predicted black holes, neutron stars, and the gravitational waves from their mergers.

It took about one hundred years, but scientists finally observed these mergers and their gravitational waves in 2015. Since then, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration has detected many of them. The collaboration has released a new catalogue of discoveries, along with a new infographic. The new infographic displays the black holes, neutron stars, mergers, and the other uncertain compact objects behind some of them.

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Why Can Black Hole Binaries Have Dramatically Different Masses? Multiple Generations of Mergers

Simulated merger of two black holes. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

On the 12th of April, 2019, the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave observatories detected the merger of two black holes. Named GW190412, one of the black holes was eight solar masses, while the other was 30 solar masses. On the 14th of August that year, an even more extreme merger was observed, when a 2.5 solar mass object merged with a black hole nearly ten times more massive. These mergers raise fundamental questions about the way black hole mergers happen.

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The Moon is an Ideal Spot for a Gravitational Wave Observatory

High-resolution view of the lunar surface (JAXA/SELENE)

In the coming years, multiple space agencies will be sending missions (including astronauts) to the Moon’s southern polar region to conduct vital research. In addition to scouting resources in the area (in preparation for the construction of a lunar base) these missions will also investigate the possibility of conducting various scientific investigations on the far side of the Moon.

However, two prominent scientists (Dr. Karan Jani and Prof. Abraham Loeb) recently published a paper where they argue that another kind of astronomy could be conducted on the far side of the Moon – Gravitational Wave astronomy! As part of NASA’s Project Artemis, they explain how a Gravitational-wave Lunar Observatory for Cosmology (GLOC) would be ideal for exploring GW in the richest and most challenging frequencies.

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