Home Press Release Gravitational Waves Unveil Unprecedented Ancient Black Hole Collisions

Gravitational Waves Unveil Unprecedented Ancient Black Hole Collisions

The remarkable collision of two neutron stars was discovered in 2017 by LIGO.


On May 24, researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) started an 18-month search for the farthest-reaching black hole–neutron star collisions ever seen. According to Michael Landry, director of LIGO Hanford Observatory, “We’re very excited.”

Due to improvements, LIGO’s detectors are now sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves, ripples in space-time that are produced by colliding black holes in galaxies more than 5 billion light-years from Earth. These waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein.

An international effort will be launched to find gravitational waves. Global Collaboration Expands to Virgo and KAGRA, join LIGO in Uniting Gravitational Wave Detectors.

Analysing the population of black holes
Black holes are bottomless space-time pits from which light cannot escape due to their extreme gravitational pull. Black holes can circle one another in the same way as planets. They can travel in orbit around stars and stars can move around other stars. Sheila Dwyer is a staff scientist at LIGO Hanford. “A black hole warps space-time, and when they circle around each other they create ripples in space-time,” she explained.

The two black holes spiral towards one another as a result of these ripples, known as gravitational waves. They carry energy and angular momentum away from them. Eventually, they meet in one of the universe’s most explosive occurrences.

The remarkable collision of two neutron stars was discovered in 2017 by LIGO. Telescopes on Earth watched the electromagnetic radiation as LIGO and Virgo observed the gravitational waves from the collision. For the first time, electromagnetic radiation and gravitational waves were detected coming from the same source. These data could be used to examine the formation of elements heavier than iron in a cosmic nuclear laboratory formed by colliding neutron stars.

Improved LIGO
When LIGO discovered what may have been a collision between a neutron star and a black hole on May 18, it provided scientists with a glimpse of what is possible with the new enhancements. This discovery was made while LIGO’s facilities were in what is known as a “engineering run,” which allows the engineers of LIGO to make adjustments to the instrumentation before the observations begin.

According to projections, LIGO will record at least one event from neutron star and black hole collisions per week in the upcoming months. By the end of this decade, enhancements will enable LIGO to witness a couple of these events every day. The development of a gravitational wave detector in India just received approval from the Indian Cabinet.

“If the detectors are a factor of 10 more sensitive, we could look back to the very first stars and see all the stellar mass black hole mergers in the history of the universe,” said Sheila Dwyer. “It’s kind of mindblowing.”

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