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  • richardmitnick 9:40 am on August 31, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists Detected 2 Black Hole Mergers Just 21 Mins Apart But It's Not What We Hoped", Advanced Virgo, , , ,   

    From Science Alert and LIGO: “Scientists Detected 2 Black Hole Mergers Just 21 Mins Apart, But It’s Not What We Hoped” 

    ScienceAlert

    From Science Alert

    MIT /Caltech Advanced aLigo

    31 AUG 2019
    MIKE MCRAE

    1
    (Des Green/iStock)

    Last Wednesday, a gravitational wave detection gave astronomers quite the surprise. As researchers were going about their work at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a pair of gravitational waves rolled in just minutes apart.

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/Werner Benger

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo came online in August 2018

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    The first, labelled S190828j, was picked up by all three of LIGO’s gravitational wave detectors at 06:34 am, coordinated universal time.

    MIT /Caltech Advanced aLigo


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    The second, S190828l, was measured at 06:55 – a mere 21 minutes later.

    Both seemed to be the run-of-the-mill dying screams of black holes as they squish together. But here’s why it’s so surprising: astronomers wouldn’t expect to see a pair of signals in such quick succession.

    In fact, this is only the second time two detections have rolled in on the same day. What’s more, at first glance they also seemed to echo from more or less the same patch of sky.

    “This is a genuine “Uh, wait, what?; We’ve never seen that before…” moment in gravitational wave astronomy,” astrophysicist Robert Routledge from McGill University later tweeted, after openly speculating that it mightn’t be a mere coincidence.

    Non-scientists — this is a genuine “Uh, wait, what? We’ve never seen that before…….” moment in gravitational wave astronomy. If you’d like to see how double-checks and confirmations and conclusions occur – pay attention, in real time. Happening now.
    — Robert Rutledge (@rerutled) August 28, 2019

    Nobody can blame Routledge for getting excited. Unexpected events like this are what discoveries are made of, after all. As he said, this is science in real time.

    One possibility briefly kicked around was that S190828j and S190828l were actually the same wave, divided by some sort of distortion in space before being roughly thrown together again. This would have been huge.

    Gravitational lensing – the warping effect an intervening mass has on space, as described by general relativity – can divide and duplicate the rays of light from far-off objects. It has become a useful tool for astronomers in the measurement of distances.

    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA

    If this had indeed been a two-for-one deal, it would be the first time a gravitational wave had been observed through a gravitational lens.

    Alas, it’s now looking pretty unlikely. As the hours passed, new details emerged indicating the two signals don’t overlap enough to be originating from the same source.

    If this were a lensing event, you’d expect the two localizations to sit more or less right on top of each other. They have similar shapes and appear in the same part of the sky, but they don’t really overlap: pic.twitter.com/lqvigNhyBl
    — Robert McNees (@mcnees) August 28, 2019

    So close, and yet so far. Right now, this twin event is looking more like a coincidence.

    To look on the bright side, we now live in an age where the detection of the crash-boom of galactic giants isn’t a rare event, but rather an endless peel of thunder we can record and measure with an insane level of accuracy. It’s hard to believe the first collision was detected only a few years ago.

    Scientists face a problem in the wake of freaky events like this one. On the one hand, wild speculations have a habit of taking on a life of their own when discussed so frankly in a public space, transforming into an established fact while barely half baked.

    But time can be of the essence when we’re scanning a near-infinite amount of sky for clues, too. By throwing ideas out broadly, different groups of researchers can turn their attention to a phenomenon and collect data while it’s still hot.

    This is what scientists do best – stumble across odd events, throw out ideas, and debate which ones deserve to be inspected and which should be abandoned.

    If there’s more to S190828j and S190828l than meets the eye, we’ll let you know. For now, we can be disappointed that there was no Earth-shaking discovery, while still being amazed that we have the technology to discover it at all.

    We really ought to celebrate the ‘disappointments’ a little more often.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 10:54 am on July 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Ask Ethan: Can We Really Get A Universe From Nothing?", Advanced Virgo, , , , Because dark energy is a property of space itself when the Universe expands the dark energy density must remain constant., , , , , Galaxies that are gravitationally bound will merge together into groups and clusters while the unbound groups and clusters will accelerate away from one another., , Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Negative gravity?, ,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “Ask Ethan: Can We Really Get A Universe From Nothing?” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    July 27, 2019

    1
    Our entire cosmic history is theoretically well-understood in terms of the frameworks and rules that govern it. It’s only by observationally confirming and revealing various stages in our Universe’s past that must have occurred, like when the first stars and galaxies formed, and how the Universe expanded over time, that we can truly come to understand what makes up our Universe and how it expands and gravitates in a quantitative fashion. The relic signatures imprinted on our Universe from an inflationary state before the hot Big Bang give us a unique way to test our cosmic history, subject to the same fundamental limitations that all frameworks possess. (NICOLE RAGER FULLER / NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION)

    And does it require the idea of ‘negative gravity’ in order to work?

    The biggest question that we’re even capable of asking, with our present knowledge and understanding of the Universe, is where did everything we can observe come from? If it came from some sort of pre-existing state, we’ll want to know exactly what that state was like and how our Universe came from it. If it emerged out of nothingness, we’d want to know how we went from nothing to the entire Universe, and what if anything caused it. At least, that’s what our Patreon supporter Charles Buchanan wants to know, asking:

    “One concept bothers me. Perhaps you can help. I see it in used many places, but never really explained. “A universe from Nothing” and the concept of negative gravity. As I learned my Newtonian physics, you could put the zero point of the gravitational potential anywhere, only differences mattered. However Newtonian physics never deals with situations where matter is created… Can you help solidify this for me, preferably on [a] conceptual level, maybe with a little calculation detail?”

    Gravitation might seem like a straightforward force, but an incredible number of aspects are anything but intuitive. Let’s take a deeper look.

    2
    Countless scientific tests of Einstein’s general theory of relativity have been performed, subjecting the idea to some of the most stringent constraints ever obtained by humanity. Einstein’s first solution was for the weak-field limit around a single mass, like the Sun; he applied these results to our Solar System with dramatic success. We can view this orbit as Earth (or any planet) being in free-fall around the Sun, traveling in a straight-line path in its own frame of reference. All masses and all sources of energy contribute to the curvature of spacetime. (LIGO SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION / T. PYLE / CALTECH / MIT)

    MIT /Caltech Advanced aLigo



    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    LSC LIGO Scientific Collaboration


    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger

    Gravity is talking. Lisa will listen. Dialogos of Eide

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo came online in August 2018


    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    If you have two point masses located some distance apart in your Universe, they’ll experience an attractive force that compels them to gravitate towards one another. But this attractive force that you perceive, in the context of relativity, comes with two caveats.

    The first caveat is simple and straightforward: these two masses will experience an acceleration towards one another, but whether they wind up moving closer to one another or not is entirely dependent on how the space between them evolves. Unlike in Newtonian gravity, where space is a fixed quantity and only the masses within that space can evolve, everything is changeable in General Relativity. Not only does matter and energy move and accelerate due to gravitation, but the very fabric of space itself can expand, contract, or otherwise flow. All masses still move through space, but space itself is no longer stationary.

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    The ‘raisin bread’ model of the expanding Universe, where relative distances increase as the space (dough) expands. The farther away any two raisin are from one another, the greater the observed redshift will be by time the light is received. The redshift-distance relation predicted by the expanding Universe is borne out in observations, and has been consistent with what’s been known going all the way back to the 1920s. (NASA / WMAP SCIENCE TEAM)

    NASA/WMAP 2001 to 2010

    The second caveat is that the two masses you’re considering, even if you’re extremely careful about accounting for what’s in your Universe, are most likely not the only forms of energy around. There are bound to be other masses in the form of normal matter, dark matter, and neutrinos. There’s the presence of radiation, from both electromagnetic and gravitational waves. There’s even dark energy: a type of energy inherent to the fabric of space itself.

    Now, here’s a scenario that might exemplify where your intuition leads you astray: what happens if these masses, for the volume they occupy, have less total energy than the average energy density of the surrounding space?

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    The gravitational attraction (blue) of overdense regions and the relative repulsion (red) of the underdense regions, as they act on the Milky Way. Even though gravity is always attractive, there is an average amount of attraction throughout the Universe, and regions with lower energy densities than that will experience (and cause) an effective repulsion with respect to the average. (YEHUDA HOFFMAN, DANIEL POMARÈDE, R. BRENT TULLY, AND HÉLÈNE COURTOIS, NATURE ASTRONOMY 1, 0036 (2017))

    You can imagine three different scenarios:

    1.The first mass has a below-average energy density while the second has an above-average value.
    2.The first mass has an above-average energy density while the second has a below-average value.
    3.Both the first and second masses have a below-average energy density compared to the rest of space.

    In the first two scenarios, the above-average mass will begin growing as it pulls on the matter/energy all around it, while the below-average mass will start shrinking, as it’s less able to hold onto its own mass in the face of its surroundings. These two masses will effectively repel one another; even though gravitation is always attractive, the intervening matter is preferentially attracted to the heavier-than-average mass. This causes the lower-mass object to act like it’s both repelling and being repelled by the heavier-mass object, the same way a balloon held underwater will still be attracted to Earth’s center, but will be forced away from it owing to the (buoyant) effects of the water.

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    The Earth’s crust is thinnest over the ocean and thickest over mountains and plateaus, as the principle of buoyancy dictates and as gravitational experiments confirm. Just as a balloon submerged in water will accelerate away from the center of the Earth, a region with below-average energy density will accelerate away from an overdense region, as average-density regions will be more preferentially attracted to the overdense region than the underdense region will. (USGS)
    6

    So what’s going to happen if you have two regions of space with below-average densities, surrounded by regions of just average density? They’ll both shrink, giving up their remaining matter to the denser regions around them. But as far as motions go, they’ll accelerate towards one another, with exactly the same magnitude they’d accelerate at if they were both overdense regions that exceeded the average density by equivalent amounts.

    You might be wondering why it’s important to think about these concerns when talking about a Universe from nothing. After all, if your Universe is full of matter and energy, it’s pretty hard to understand how that’s relevant to making sense of the concept of something coming from nothing. But just as our intuition can lead us astray when thinking about matter and energy on the spacetime playing field of General Relativity, it’s a comparable situation when we think about nothingness.

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    A representation of flat, empty space with no matter, energy or curvature of any type. With the exception of small quantum fluctuations, space in an inflationary Universe becomes incredibly flat like this, except in a 3D grid rather than a 2D sheet. Space is stretched flat, and particles are rapidly driven away. (AMBER STUVER / LIVING LIGO)

    You very likely think about nothingness as a philosopher would: the complete absence of everything. Zero matter, zero energy, an absolutely zero value for all the quantum fields in the Universe, etc. You think of space that’s completely flat, with nothing around to cause its curvature anywhere.

    If you think this way, you’re not alone: there are many different ways to conceive of “nothing.” You might even be tempted to take away space, time, and the laws of physics themselves, too. The problem, if you start doing that, is that you lose your ability to predict anything at all. The type of nothingness you’re thinking about, in this context, is what we call unphysical.

    If we want to think about nothing in a physical sense, you have to keep certain things. You need spacetime and the laws of physics, for example; you cannot have a Universe without them.

    8
    A visualization of QCD illustrates how particle/antiparticle pairs pop out of the quantum vacuum for very small amounts of time as a consequence of Heisenberg uncertainty.

    The quantum vacuum is interesting because it demands that empty space itself isn’t so empty, but is filled with all the particles, antiparticles and fields in various states that are demanded by the quantum field theory that describes our Universe. Put this all together, and you find that empty space has a zero-point energy that’s actually greater than zero. (DEREK B. LEINWEBER)

    But here’s the kicker: if you have spacetime and the laws of physics, then by definition you have quantum fields permeating the Universe everywhere you go. You have a fundamental “jitter” to the energy inherent to space, due to the quantum nature of the Universe. (And the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is unavoidable.)

    Put these ingredients together — because you can’t have a physically sensible “nothing” without them — and you’ll find that space itself doesn’t have zero energy inherent to it, but energy with a finite, non-zero value. Just as there’s a finite zero-point energy (that’s greater than zero) for an electron bound to an atom, the same is true for space itself. Empty space, even with zero curvature, even devoid of particles and external fields, still has a finite energy density to it.

    9
    The four possible fates of the Universe with only matter, radiation, curvature and a cosmological constant allowed. The top three possibilities are for a Universe whose fate is determined by the balance of matter/radiation with spatial curvature alone; the bottom one includes dark energy. Only the bottom “fate” aligns with the evidence. (E. SIEGEL / BEYOND THE GALAXY)

    From the perspective of quantum field theory, this is conceptualized as the zero-point energy of the quantum vacuum: the lowest-energy state of empty space. In the framework of General Relativity, however, it appears in a different sense: as the value of a cosmological constant, which itself is the energy of empty space, independent of curvature or any other form of energy density.

    Although we do not know how to calculate the value of this energy density from first principles, we can calculate the effects it has on the expanding Universe. As your Universe expands, every form of energy that exists within it contributes to not only how your Universe expands, but how that expansion rate changes over time. From multiple independent lines of evidence — including the Universe’s large-scale structure, the cosmic microwave background, and distant supernovae — we have been able to determine how much energy is inherent to space itself.

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    Constraints on dark energy from three independent sources: supernovae, the CMB (cosmic microwave background) and BAO (which is a wiggly feature seen in the correlations of large-scale structure). Note that even without supernovae, we’d need dark energy for certain, and also that there are uncertainties and degeneracies between the amount of dark matter and dark energy that we’d need to accurately describe our Universe. (SUPERNOVA COSMOLOGY PROJECT, AMANULLAH, ET AL., AP.J. (2010))

    This form of energy is what we presently call dark energy, and it’s responsible for the observed accelerated expansion of the Universe. Although it’s been a part of our conceptions of reality for more than two decades now, we don’t fully understand its true nature. All we can say is that when we measure the expansion rate of the Universe, our observations are consistent with dark energy being a cosmological constant with a specific magnitude, and not with any of the alternatives that evolve significantly over cosmic time.

    Because dark energy causes distant galaxies to appear to recede from one another more and more quickly as time goes on — since the space between those galaxies is expanding — it’s often called negative gravity. This is not only highly informal, but incorrect. Gravity is only positive, never negative. But even positive gravity, as we saw earlier, can have effects that look very much like negative repulsion.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Timeline of the Inflationary Universe WMAP

    The Dark Energy Survey (DES) is an international, collaborative effort to map hundreds of millions of galaxies, detect thousands of supernovae, and find patterns of cosmic structure that will reveal the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of our Universe. DES began searching the Southern skies on August 31, 2013.

    According to Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, gravity should lead to a slowing of the cosmic expansion. Yet, in 1998, two teams of astronomers studying distant supernovae made the remarkable discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. To explain cosmic acceleration, cosmologists are faced with two possibilities: either 70% of the universe exists in an exotic form, now called dark energy, that exhibits a gravitational force opposite to the attractive gravity of ordinary matter, or General Relativity must be replaced by a new theory of gravity on cosmic scales.

    DES is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of dark energy by measuring the 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion with high precision. More than 400 scientists from over 25 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia are working on the project. The collaboration built and is using an extremely sensitive 570-Megapixel digital camera, DECam, mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Chilean Andes, to carry out the project.

    Over six years (2013-2019), the DES collaboration used 758 nights of observation to carry out a deep, wide-area survey to record information from 300 million galaxies that are billions of light-years from Earth. The survey imaged 5000 square degrees of the southern sky in five optical filters to obtain detailed information about each galaxy. A fraction of the survey time is used to observe smaller patches of sky roughly once a week to discover and study thousands of supernovae and other astrophysical transients.

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    How energy density changes over time in a Universe dominated by matter (top), radiation (middle), and a cosmological constant (bottom). Note that dark energy doesn’t change in density as the Universe expands, which is why it comes to dominate the Universe at late times. (E. SIEGEL)

    If there were greater amounts of dark energy present within our spatially flat Universe, the expansion rate would be greater. But this is true for all forms of energy in a spatially flat Universe: dark energy is no exception. The only different between dark energy and the more commonly encountered forms of energy, like matter and radiation, is that as the Universe expands, the densities of matter and radiation decrease.

    But because dark energy is a property of space itself, when the Universe expands, the dark energy density must remain constant. As time goes on, galaxies that are gravitationally bound will merge together into groups and clusters, while the unbound groups and clusters will accelerate away from one another. That’s the ultimate fate of the Universe if dark energy is real.

    Laniakea supercluster. From Nature The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies R. Brent Tully, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman & Daniel Pomarède at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v513/n7516/full/nature13674.html. Milky Way is the red dot.

    So why do we say we have a Universe that came from nothing? Because the value of dark energy may have been much higher in the distant past: before the hot Big Bang. A Universe with a very large amount of dark energy in it will behave identically to a Universe undergoing cosmic inflation. In order for inflation to end, that energy has to get converted into matter and radiation. The evidence strongly points to that happening some 13.8 billion years ago.

    When it did, though, a small amount of dark energy remained behind. Why? Because the zero-point energy of the quantum fields in our Universe isn’t zero, but a finite, greater-than-zero value. Our intuition may not be reliable when we consider the physical concepts of nothing and negative/positive gravity, but that’s why we have science. When we do it right, we wind up with physical theories that accurately describe the Universe we measure and observe.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

     
  • richardmitnick 10:26 am on July 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Second-Fastest Dead Star Pair Ever Found Orbits Every Seven Minutes", Advanced Virgo, , , , , , , The second fastest orbiting pair of white dwarfs,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Second-Fastest Dead Star Pair Ever Found Orbits Every Seven Minutes” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    July 24, 2019
    Korey Haynes

    1
    The two white dwarf stars orbit so close together that the whole system could fit inside the planet Saturn. (Credit: Caltech/IPAC)

    Astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility at Kitt Peak in Arizona [?] have discovered the second fastest orbiting pair of white dwarfs.

    Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) instrument installed on the 1.2m diameter Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory in California. Courtesy Caltech Optical Observatories

    At the end of their normal lives, our sun and other stars like it become white dwarfs. Their outer layers puff away and leave behind a hot, dense core. And if those stars started life in a binary pair, as most stars do, then then they can end up in a tight, fast orbit, as the stars age and interact.

    But in the extreme world of binary white dwarfs, this new discovery, called ZTF J1539+5027, is an extreme case. The two tiny stars orbit each other every 6.91 minutes, within a space smaller than the planet Saturn. Researchers led by graduate student Kevin Burdge from the California Institute of Technology published their findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday. They point out that the system will be a perfect target for the upcoming LISA gravitational wave detector, set to launch in 2034.

    ESA/NASA eLISA


    ESA/NASA eLISA space based, the future of gravitational wave research

    Fast Pair

    In their younger days, these stars probably orbited much farther apart. But identical twin stars are rare, and one usually starts off at least a little bigger than the other. This bigger sun then races through its life a little quicker. That means that one star reaches its large and puffy phase while the other is still star-like, and they can end up sharing – or stealing – material from each other. In many cases, this trade-off forces the pair to spiral closer together.

    In this newly-found system, one of the stars is currently slightly larger than Earth but weighs about 60 percent the mass of our sun. The other dwarf is puffier and a little larger in diameter but weighs only one-third of its companion. Already quite close, the two stars grow 10 inches closer per day, thanks to the energy they radiate away as gravitational waves.

    Such systems with clear gravitational wave emissions are expected to be common in the universe, but only a few have been positively identified so far. That may change when LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, launches in the 2030s. Like LIGO, which found colliding black holes in 2015, the instrument will hunt for the invisible ripples in space-time caused by gravitational waves. But LISA will hunt smaller prey, like these binary systems. And unlike many of LIGO’s sources, which can only be observed through gravitational waves, binary pairs like J1539 may yield extra information, appearing both through gravitational waves and visible light.

    MIT /Caltech Advanced aLigo


    While LISA isn’t ready for launch yet, scientists are excited to have a prime observing target already picked out, and know that LISA’s prey is out there, waiting to be observed.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 12:39 pm on July 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Virgo, , , , , , , ,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “Ask Ethan: Why Do Gravitational Waves Travel Exactly At The Speed Of Light?” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    July 13, 2019

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    Ripples in spacetime are what gravitational waves are, and they travel through space at the speed of light in all directions. Although the constants of electromagnetism never appear in the equations for Einstein’s General Relativity, gravitational waves undoubtedly move at the speed of light. Here’s why. (EUROPEAN GRAVITATIONAL OBSERVATORY, LIONEL BRET/EUROLIOS)

    2

    General Relativity has nothing to do with light or electromagnetism at all. So how to gravitational waves know to travel at the speed of light?

    There are two fundamental classes of theories required to describe the entirety of the Universe. On the one hand, there’s quantum field theory, which describes electromagnetism and the nuclear forces, and accounts for all the particles in the Universe and the quantum interactions that govern them. On the other hand, there’s General Relativity, which explains the relationship between matter/energy and space/time, and describes what we experience as gravitation. Within the context of General Relativity, there’s a new type of radiation that arises: gravitational waves. Yet, despite having nothing to do with light, these gravitational waves must travel at the speed of light. Why is that? Roger Reynolds wants to know, asking:

    We know that the speed of electromagnetic radiation can be derived from Maxwell’s equation[s] in a vacuum. What equations (similar to Maxwell’s — perhaps?) offer a mathematical proof that Gravity Waves must travel [at the] speed of light?

    It’s a deep, deep question. Let’s dive into the details.

    3
    It’s possible to write down a variety of equations, like Maxwell’s equations, to describe some aspect of the Universe. We can write them down in a variety of ways, as they are shown in both differential form (left) and integral form (right). It’s only by comparing their predictions with physical observations can we draw any conclusion about their validity. (EHSAN KAMALINEJAD OF UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO)

    It’s not apparent, at first glance, that Maxwell’s equations necessarily predict the existence of radiation that travels at the speed of light. What those equations ⁠ — which govern classical electromagnetism ⁠ — clearly tell us are about the behavior of:

    stationary electric charges,
    electric charges in motion (electric currents),
    static (unchanging) electric and magnetic fields,
    and how those fields and charges move, accelerate, and change in response to one another.

    Now, using the laws of electromagnetism alone, we can set up a physically relevant system: that of a low-mass, negatively charged particle orbiting a high-mass, positively charged one. This was the original model of the Rutherford atom, and it came along with a big, existential crisis. As the negative charge moves through space, it experiences a changing electric field, and accelerates as a result. But when a charged particle accelerates, it has to radiate power away, and the only way to do so is through electromagnetic radiation: i.e., light.

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    In the Rutherford model of the atom, electrons orbited the positively charged nucleus, but would emit electromagnetic radiation and see that orbit decay. It required the development of quantum mechanics, and the improvements of the Bohr model, to make sense of this apparent paradox. (JAMES HEDBERG / CCNY / CUNY)

    This has two effects that are calculable within the framework of classical electrodynamics. The first effect is that the negative charge will spiral into the nucleus, as if you’re radiating power away, you have to get that energy from somewhere, and the only place to take it from is the kinetic energy of the particle in motion. If you lose that kinetic energy, you inevitably will spiral towards the central, attracting object.

    The second effect that you can calculate is what’s going on with the emitted radiation. There are two constants of nature that show up in Maxwell’s equations:

    ε_0, the permittivity of free space, which is the fundamental constant describing the electric force between two electric charges in a vacuum.
    μ_0, the permeability of free space, which you can think of as the constant that defines the magnetic force produced by two parallel conducting wires in a vacuum with a constant current running through them.

    When you calculate the properties of the electromagnetic radiation produced, it behaves as a wave whose propagation speed equals (ε_0 · μ_0)^(-1/2), which just happens to equal the speed of light.

    5
    Relativistic electrons and positrons can be accelerated to very high speeds, but will emit synchrotron radiation (blue) at high enough energies, preventing them from moving faster. This synchrotron radiation is the relativistic analog of the radiation predicted by Rutherford so many years ago, and has a gravitational analogy if you replace the electromagnetic fields and charges with gravitational ones.(CHUNG-LI DONG, JINGHUA GUO, YANG-YUAN CHEN, AND CHANG CHING-LIN, ‘SOFT-X-RAY SPECTROSCOPY PROBES NANOMATERIAL-BASED DEVICES’)

    In electromagnetism, even if the details are quite the exercise to work out, the overall effect is straightforward. Moving electric charges that experience a changing external electromagnetic field will emit radiation, and that radiation both carries energy away and itself moves at a specific propagation speed: the speed of light. This is a classical effect, which can be derived with no references to quantum physics at all.

    Now, General Relativity is also a classical theory of gravity, with no references to quantum effects at all. In fact, we can imagine a system very analogous to the one we set up in electromagnetism: a mass in motion, orbiting around another mass. The moving mass will experience a changing external gravitational field (i.e., it will experience a change in spatial curvature) which causes it to emit radiation that carries energy away. This is the conceptual origin of gravitational radiation, or gravitational waves.

    6
    There is, perhaps, no better analogy for the radiation-reaction in electromagnetism than the planets orbiting the Sun in gravitational theories. The Sun is the largest source of mass, and curves space as a result. As a massive planet moves through this space, it accelerates, and by necessity that implies it must emit some type of radiation to conserve energy: gravitational waves. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH, FOR THE CASSINI MISSION)

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    But why ⁠ — as one would be inclined to ask ⁠ — do these gravitational waves have to travel at the speed of light? Why does the speed of gravity, which you might imagine could take on any value at all, have to exactly equal the speed of light? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we know?

    Imagine what might happen if you were to suddenly pull the ultimate cosmic magic trick, and made the Sun simply disappear. If you did this, you wouldn’t see the skies go dark for 8 minutes and 20 seconds, which is the amount of time it takes light to travel the ~150 million km from the Sun to Earth. But gravitation doesn’t necessarily need to be the same way. It’s possible, as Newton’s theory predicted, that the gravitational force would be an instantaneous phenomenon, felt by all objects with mass in the Universe across the vast cosmic distances all at once.

    7
    An accurate model of how the planets orbit the Sun, which then moves through the galaxy in a different direction-of-motion. If the Sun were to simply wink out of existence, Newton’s theory predicts that they would all instantaneously fly off in straight lines, while Einstein’s predicts that the inner planets would continue orbiting for shorter periods of time than the outer planets. (RHYS TAYLOR)

    What would happen under this hypothetical scenario? If the Sun were to somehow disappear at one particular instant, would the Earth fly off in a straight line immediately? Or would the Earth continue to move in its elliptical orbit for another 8 minutes and 20 seconds, only deviating once that changing gravitational signal, propagating at the speed of light, reached our world?

    If you ask General Relativity, the answer is much closer to the latter, because it isn’t mass that determines gravitation, but rather the curvature of space, which is determined by the sum of all the matter and energy in it. If you were to take the Sun away, space would go from being curved to being flat, but only in the location where the Sun physically was. The effect of that transition would then propagate radially outwards, sending very large ripples — i.e., gravitational waves — propagating through the Universe like ripples in a 3D pond.

    8
    Whether through a medium or in vacuum, every ripple that propagates has a propagation speed. In no cases is the propagation speed infinite, and in theory, the speed at which gravitational ripples propagate should be the same as the maximum speed in the Universe: the speed of light. (SERGIU BACIOIU/FLICKR)

    In the context of relativity, whether that’s Special Relativity (in flat space) or General Relativity (in any generalized space), the speed of anything in motion is determined by the same things: its energy, momentum, and rest mass. Gravitational waves, like any form of radiation, have zero rest mass and yet have finite energies and momenta, meaning that they have no option: they must always move at the speed of light.

    This has a few fascinating consequences.

    Any observer in any inertial (non-accelerating) reference frame would see gravitational waves moving at exactly the speed of light.
    Different observers would see gravitational waves redshifting and blueshifting due to all the effects — such as source/observer motion, gravitational redshift/blueshift, and the expansion of the Universe — that electromagnetic waves also experience.
    The Earth, therefore, is not gravitationally attracted to where the Sun is right now, but rather where the Sun was 8 minutes and 20 seconds ago.

    The simple fact that space and time are related by the speed of light means that all of these statements must be true.

    9
    Gravitational radiation gets emitted whenever a mass orbits another one, which means that over long enough timescales, orbits will decay. Before the first black hole ever evaporates, the Earth will spiral into whatever’s left of the Sun, assuming nothing else has ejected it previously. Earth is attracted to where the Sun was approximately 8 minutes ago, not to where it is today. (AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY)

    This last statement, about the Earth being attracted to the Sun’s position from 8 minutes and 20 seconds ago, was a truly revolutionary difference between Newton’s theory of gravity and Einstein’s General Relativity. The reason it’s revolutionary is for this simple fact: if gravity simply attracted the planets to the Sun’s prior location at the speed of light, the planets’ predicted locations would mismatch severely with where they actually were observed to be.

    It’s a stroke of brilliance to realize that Newton’s laws require an instantaneous speed of gravity to such precision that if that were the only constraint, the speed of gravity must have been more than 20 billion times faster than the speed of light! [ScienceDirect] But in General Relativity, there’s another effect: the orbiting planet is in motion as it moves around the Sun. When a planet moves, you can think of it riding over a gravitational ripple, coming down in a different location from where it went up.

    10
    When a mass moves through a region of curved space, it will experience an acceleration owing to the curved space it inhabits. It also experiences an additional effect due to its velocity as it moves through a region where the spatial curvature is constantly changing. These two effects, when combined, result in a slight, tiny difference from the predictions of Newton’s gravity. (DAVID CHAMPION, MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR RADIO ASTRONOMY)


    Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy Bonn Germany

    In General Relativity, as opposed to Newton’s gravity, there are two big differences that are important. Sure, any two objects will exert a gravitational influence on the other, by either curving space or exerting a long-range force. But in General Relativity, these two extra pieces are at play: each object’s velocity affects how it experiences gravity, and so do the changes that occur in gravitational fields.

    The finite speed of gravity causes a change in the gravitational field that departs significantly from Newton’s predictions, and so do the effects of velocity-dependent interactions. Amazingly, these two effects cancel almost exactly. It’s the tiny inexactness of this cancellation that allowed us to first test whether Newton’s “infinite speed” or Einstein’s “speed of gravity equals the speed of light” model matched the physics of our Universe.

    To test out what the speed of gravity is, observationally, we’d want a system where the curvature of space is large, where gravitational fields are strong, and where there’s lots of acceleration taking place. Ideally, we’d choose a system with a large, massive object moving with a changing velocity through a changing gravitational field. In other words, we’d want a system with a close pair of orbiting, observable, high-mass objects in a tiny region of space.

    Nature is cooperative with this, as binary neutron star and binary black hole systems both exist. In fact, any system with a neutron star has the ability to be measured extraordinarily precisely if one serendipitous thing occurs: if our perspective is exactly aligned with the radiation emitted from the pole of a neutron star. If the path of this radiation intersects us, we can observe a pulse every time the neutron star rotates.

    11
    The rate of orbital decay of a binary pulsar is highly dependent on the speed of gravity and the orbital parameters of the binary system. We have used binary pulsar data to constrain the speed of gravity to be equal to the speed of light to a precision of 99.8%, and to infer the existence of gravitational waves decades before LIGO and Virgo detected them. However, the direct detection of gravitational waves was a vital part of the scientific process, and the existence of gravitational waves would still be in doubt without it. (NASA (L), MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR RADIO ASTRONOMY / MICHAEL KRAMER (R))

    As the neutron stars orbit, the pulsing one — known as a pulsar — carries extraordinary amounts of information about the masses and orbital periods of both components. If you observe this pulsar in a binary system for a long period of time, because it’s such a perfectly regular emitter of pulses, you should be able to detect whether the orbit is decaying or not. If it is, you can even extract a measurement for the emitted radiation: how quickly does it propagate?

    The predictions from Einstein’s theory of gravity are incredibly sensitive to the speed of light, so much so that even from the very first binary pulsar system discovered in the 1980s, PSR 1913+16 (or the Hulse-Taylor binary), we have constrained the speed of gravity to be equal to the speed of light with a measurement error of only 0.2%!

    13
    The quasar QSO J0842+1835, whose path was gravitationally altered by Jupiter in 2002, allowing an indirect confirmation that the speed of gravity equals the speed of light. (FOMALONT ET AL. (2000), APJS 131, 95–183)

    14

    That’s an indirect measurement, of course. We performed a second type of indirect measurement in 2002, when a chance coincidence lined up the Earth, Jupiter, and a very strong radio quasar (QSO J0842+1835) all along the same line-of-sight. As Jupiter moved between Earth and the quasar, the gravitational bending of Jupiter allowed us to indirectly measure the speed of gravity.

    The results were definitive: they absolutely ruled out an infinite speed for the propagation of gravitational effects. Through these observations alone, scientists determined that the speed of gravity was between 2.55 × 10⁸ m/s and 3.81 × 10⁸ m/s, completely consistent with Einstein’s predictions of 299,792,458 m/s.

    15
    Artist’s now iconic illustration of two merging neutron stars. The rippling spacetime grid represents gravitational waves emitted from the collision, while the narrow beams are the jets of gamma rays that shoot out just seconds after the gravitational waves (detected as a gamma-ray burst by astronomers). The gravitational waves and the radiation must travel at the same speed to a precision of 15 significant digits. (NSF / LIGO / SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY / A. SIMONNET)

    But the greatest confirmation that the speed of gravity equals the speed of light comes from the 2017 observation of a kilonova: the inspiral and merger of two neutron stars. A spectacular example of multi-messenger astronomy, a gravitational wave signal arrived first, recorded in both the LIGO and Virgo detectors. Then, 1.7 seconds later, the first electromagnetic (light) signal arrived: the high-energy gamma rays from the explosive cataclysm.

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    UCSC All the Gold in the Universe

    A UC Santa Cruz special report

    Tim Stephens

    Astronomer Ryan Foley says “observing the explosion of two colliding neutron stars” –the first visible event ever linked to gravitational waves–is probably the biggest discovery he’ll make in his lifetime. That’s saying a lot for a young assistant professor who presumably has a long career still ahead of him.

    The first optical image of a gravitational wave source was taken by a team led by Ryan Foley of UC Santa Cruz using the Swope Telescope at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. This image of Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a, indicated by arrow) shows the light emitted from the cataclysmic merger of two neutron stars. (Image credit: 1M2H Team/UC Santa Cruz & Carnegie Observatories/Ryan Foley)

    Carnegie Institution Swope telescope at Las Campanas, Chile, 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena. near the north end of a 7 km (4.3 mi) long mountain ridge. Cerro Las Campanas, near the southern end and over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high, at Las Campanas, Chile

    A neutron star forms when a massive star runs out of fuel and explodes as a supernova, throwing off its outer layers and leaving behind a collapsed core composed almost entirely of neutrons. Neutrons are the uncharged particles in the nucleus of an atom, where they are bound together with positively charged protons. In a neutron star, they are packed together just as densely as in the nucleus of an atom, resulting in an object with one to three times the mass of our sun but only about 12 miles wide.

    “Basically, a neutron star is a gigantic atom with the mass of the sun and the size of a city like San Francisco or Manhattan,” said Foley, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    These objects are so dense, a cup of neutron star material would weigh as much as Mount Everest, and a teaspoon would weigh a billion tons. It’s as dense as matter can get without collapsing into a black hole.

    THE MERGER

    Like other stars, neutron stars sometimes occur in pairs, orbiting each other and gradually spiraling inward. Eventually, they come together in a catastrophic merger that distorts space and time (creating gravitational waves) and emits a brilliant flare of electromagnetic radiation, including visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays, and radio waves. Merging black holes also create gravitational waves, but there’s nothing to be seen because no light can escape from a black hole.

    Foley’s team was the first to observe the light from a neutron star merger that took place on August 17, 2017, and was detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    Now, for the first time, scientists can study both the gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space-time), and the radiation emitted from the violent merger of the densest objects in the universe.

    The UC Santa Cruz team found SSS17a by comparing a new image of the galaxy N4993 (right) with images taken four months earlier by the Hubble Space Telescope (left). The arrows indicate where SSS17a was absent from the Hubble image and visible in the new image from the Swope Telescope. (Image credits: Left, Hubble/STScI; Right, 1M2H Team/UC Santa Cruz & Carnegie Observatories/Ryan Foley)

    It’s that combination of data, and all that can be learned from it, that has astronomers and physicists so excited. The observations of this one event are keeping hundreds of scientists busy exploring its implications for everything from fundamental physics and cosmology to the origins of gold and other heavy elements.


    A small team of UC Santa Cruz astronomers were the first team to observe light from two neutron stars merging in August. The implications are huge.

    ALL THE GOLD IN THE UNIVERSE

    It turns out that the origins of the heaviest elements, such as gold, platinum, uranium—pretty much everything heavier than iron—has been an enduring conundrum. All the lighter elements have well-explained origins in the nuclear fusion reactions that make stars shine or in the explosions of stars (supernovae). Initially, astrophysicists thought supernovae could account for the heavy elements, too, but there have always been problems with that theory, says Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    The violent merger of two neutron stars is thought to involve three main energy-transfer processes, shown in this diagram, that give rise to the different types of radiation seen by astronomers, including a gamma-ray burst and a kilonova explosion seen in visible light. (Image credit: Murguia-Berthier et al., Science)

    A theoretical astrophysicist, Ramirez-Ruiz has been a leading proponent of the idea that neutron star mergers are the source of the heavy elements. Building a heavy atomic nucleus means adding a lot of neutrons to it. This process is called rapid neutron capture, or the r-process, and it requires some of the most extreme conditions in the universe: extreme temperatures, extreme densities, and a massive flow of neutrons. A neutron star merger fits the bill.

    Ramirez-Ruiz and other theoretical astrophysicists use supercomputers to simulate the physics of extreme events like supernovae and neutron star mergers. This work always goes hand in hand with observational astronomy. Theoretical predictions tell observers what signatures to look for to identify these events, and observations tell theorists if they got the physics right or if they need to tweak their models. The observations by Foley and others of the neutron star merger now known as SSS17a are giving theorists, for the first time, a full set of observational data to compare with their theoretical models.

    According to Ramirez-Ruiz, the observations support the theory that neutron star mergers can account for all the gold in the universe, as well as about half of all the other elements heavier than iron.

    RIPPLES IN THE FABRIC OF SPACE-TIME

    Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity, but until recently they were impossible to observe. LIGO’s extraordinarily sensitive detectors achieved the first direct detection of gravitational waves, from the collision of two black holes, in 2015. Gravitational waves are created by any massive accelerating object, but the strongest waves (and the only ones we have any chance of detecting) are produced by the most extreme phenomena.

    Two massive compact objects—such as black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs—orbiting around each other faster and faster as they draw closer together are just the kind of system that should radiate strong gravitational waves. Like ripples spreading in a pond, the waves get smaller as they spread outward from the source. By the time they reached Earth, the ripples detected by LIGO caused distortions of space-time thousands of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.

    The rarefied signals recorded by LIGO’s detectors not only prove the existence of gravitational waves, they also provide crucial information about the events that produced them. Combined with the telescope observations of the neutron star merger, it’s an incredibly rich set of data.

    LIGO can tell scientists the masses of the merging objects and the mass of the new object created in the merger, which reveals whether the merger produced another neutron star or a more massive object that collapsed into a black hole. To calculate how much mass was ejected in the explosion, and how much mass was converted to energy, scientists also need the optical observations from telescopes. That’s especially important for quantifying the nucleosynthesis of heavy elements during the merger.

    LIGO can also provide a measure of the distance to the merging neutron stars, which can now be compared with the distance measurement based on the light from the merger. That’s important to cosmologists studying the expansion of the universe, because the two measurements are based on different fundamental forces (gravity and electromagnetism), giving completely independent results.

    “This is a huge step forward in astronomy,” Foley said. “Having done it once, we now know we can do it again, and it opens up a whole new world of what we call ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy, viewing the universe through different fundamental forces.”

    IN THIS REPORT

    Neutron stars
    A team from UC Santa Cruz was the first to observe the light from a neutron star merger that took place on August 17, 2017 and was detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)

    Graduate students and post-doctoral scholars at UC Santa Cruz played key roles in the dramatic discovery and analysis of colliding neutron stars.Astronomer Ryan Foley leads a team of young graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have pulled off an extraordinary coup. Following up on the detection of gravitational waves from the violent merger of two neutron stars, Foley’s team was the first to find the source with a telescope and take images of the light from this cataclysmic event. In so doing, they beat much larger and more senior teams with much more powerful telescopes at their disposal.

    “We’re sort of the scrappy young upstarts who worked hard and got the job done,” said Foley, an untenured assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    David Coulter, graduate student

    The discovery on August 17, 2017, has been a scientific bonanza, yielding over 100 scientific papers from numerous teams investigating the new observations. Foley’s team is publishing seven papers, each of which has a graduate student or postdoc as the first author.

    “I think it speaks to Ryan’s generosity and how seriously he takes his role as a mentor that he is not putting himself front and center, but has gone out of his way to highlight the roles played by his students and postdocs,” said Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and the most senior member of Foley’s team.

    “Our team is by far the youngest and most diverse of all of the teams involved in the follow-up observations of this neutron star merger,” Ramirez-Ruiz added.

    Charles Kilpatrick, postdoctoral scholar

    Charles Kilpatrick, a 29-year-old postdoctoral scholar, was the first person in the world to see an image of the light from colliding neutron stars. He was sitting in an office at UC Santa Cruz, working with first-year graduate student Cesar Rojas-Bravo to process image data as it came in from the Swope Telescope in Chile. To see if the Swope images showed anything new, he had also downloaded “template” images taken in the past of the same galaxies the team was searching.

    Ariadna Murguia-Berthier, graduate student

    “In one image I saw something there that was not in the template image,” Kilpatrick said. “It took me a while to realize the ramifications of what I was seeing. This opens up so much new science, it really marks the beginning of something that will continue to be studied for years down the road.”

    At the time, Foley and most of the others in his team were at a meeting in Copenhagen. When they found out about the gravitational wave detection, they quickly got together to plan their search strategy. From Copenhagen, the team sent instructions to the telescope operators in Chile telling them where to point the telescope. Graduate student David Coulter played a key role in prioritizing the galaxies they would search to find the source, and he is the first author of the discovery paper published in Science.

    Matthew Siebert, graduate student

    “It’s still a little unreal when I think about what we’ve accomplished,” Coulter said. “For me, despite the euphoria of recognizing what we were seeing at the moment, we were all incredibly focused on the task at hand. Only afterward did the significance really sink in.”

    Just as Coulter finished writing his paper about the discovery, his wife went into labor, giving birth to a baby girl on September 30. “I was doing revisions to the paper at the hospital,” he said.

    It’s been a wild ride for the whole team, first in the rush to find the source, and then under pressure to quickly analyze the data and write up their findings for publication. “It was really an all-hands-on-deck moment when we all had to pull together and work quickly to exploit this opportunity,” said Kilpatrick, who is first author of a paper comparing the observations with theoretical models.

    César Rojas Bravo, graduate student

    Graduate student Matthew Siebert led a paper analyzing the unusual properties of the light emitted by the merger. Astronomers have observed thousands of supernovae (exploding stars) and other “transients” that appear suddenly in the sky and then fade away, but never before have they observed anything that looks like this neutron star merger. Siebert’s paper concluded that there is only a one in 100,000 chance that the transient they observed is not related to the gravitational waves.

    Ariadna Murguia-Berthier, a graduate student working with Ramirez-Ruiz, is first author of a paper synthesizing data from a range of sources to provide a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the observations.

    Another aspect of the discovery of great interest to astronomers is the nature of the galaxy and the galactic environment in which the merger occurred. Postdoctoral scholar Yen-Chen Pan led a paper analyzing the properties of the host galaxy. Enia Xhakaj, a new graduate student who had just joined the group in August, got the opportunity to help with the analysis and be a coauthor on the paper.

    Yen-Chen Pan, postdoctoral scholar

    “There are so many interesting things to learn from this,” Foley said. “It’s a great experience for all of us to be part of such an important discovery.”

    Enia Xhakaj, graduate student

    IN THIS REPORT

    Scientific Papers from the 1M2H Collaboration

    Coulter et al., Science, Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a), the Optical Counterpart to a Gravitational Wave Source

    Drout et al., Science, Light Curves of the Neutron Star Merger GW170817/SSS17a: Implications for R-Process Nucleosynthesis

    Shappee et al., Science, Early Spectra of the Gravitational Wave Source GW170817: Evolution of a Neutron Star Merger

    Kilpatrick et al., Science, Electromagnetic Evidence that SSS17a is the Result of a Binary Neutron Star Merger

    Siebert et al., ApJL, The Unprecedented Properties of the First Electromagnetic Counterpart to a Gravitational-wave Source

    Pan et al., ApJL, The Old Host-galaxy Environment of SSS17a, the First Electromagnetic Counterpart to a Gravitational-wave Source

    Murguia-Berthier et al., ApJL, A Neutron Star Binary Merger Model for GW170817/GRB170817a/SSS17a

    Kasen et al., Nature, Origin of the heavy elements in binary neutron star mergers from a gravitational wave event

    Abbott et al., Nature, A gravitational-wave standard siren measurement of the Hubble constant (The LIGO Scientific Collaboration and The Virgo Collaboration, The 1M2H Collaboration, The Dark Energy Camera GW-EM Collaboration and the DES Collaboration, The DLT40 Collaboration, The Las Cumbres Observatory Collaboration, The VINROUGE Collaboration & The MASTER Collaboration)

    Abbott et al., ApJL, Multi-messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger

    PRESS RELEASES AND MEDIA COVERAGE


    Watch Ryan Foley tell the story of how his team found the neutron star merger in the video below. 2.5 HOURS.

    Press releases:

    UC Santa Cruz Press Release

    UC Berkeley Press Release

    Carnegie Institution of Science Press Release

    LIGO Collaboration Press Release

    National Science Foundation Press Release

    Media coverage:

    The Atlantic – The Slack Chat That Changed Astronomy

    Washington Post – Scientists detect gravitational waves from a new kind of nova, sparking a new era in astronomy

    New York Times – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

    Science – Merging neutron stars generate gravitational waves and a celestial light show

    CBS News – Gravitational waves – and light – seen in neutron star collision

    CBC News – Astronomers see source of gravitational waves for 1st time

    San Jose Mercury News – A bright light seen across the universe, proving Einstein right

    Popular Science – Gravitational waves just showed us something even cooler than black holes

    Scientific American – Gravitational Wave Astronomers Hit Mother Lode

    Nature – Colliding stars spark rush to solve cosmic mysteries

    National Geographic – In a First, Gravitational Waves Linked to Neutron Star Crash

    Associated Press – Astronomers witness huge cosmic crash, find origins of gold

    Science News – Neutron star collision showers the universe with a wealth of discoveries

    UCSC press release
    First observations of merging neutron stars mark a new era in astronomy

    Credits

    Writing: Tim Stephens
    Video: Nick Gonzales
    Photos: Carolyn Lagattuta
    Header image: Illustration by Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
    Design and development: Rob Knight
    Project managers: Sherry Main, Scott Hernandez-Jason, Tim Stephens

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 7200 feet

    Noted in the video but not in the article:

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    Prompt telescope CTIO Chile

    NASA NuSTAR X-ray telescope

    See the full article here

    Because this event took place some 130 million light-years away, and the gravitational and light signals arrived with less than a two second difference between them, we can constrain the possible departure of the speed of gravity from the speed of light. We now know, based on this, that they differ by less than 1 part in 10¹⁵, or less than one quadrillionth of the actual speed of light.

    15
    Illustration of a fast gamma-ray burst, long thought to occur from the merger of neutron stars. The gas-rich environment surrounding them could delay the arrival of the signal, explaining the observed 1.7 second difference between the arrivals of the gravitational and electromagnetic signatures. (ESO)

    Of course, we think that these two speeds are exactly identical. The speed of gravity should equal the speed of light so long as both gravitational waves and photons have no rest mass associated with them. The 1.7 second delay is very likely explained by the fact that gravitational waves pass through matter unperturbed, while light interacts electromagnetically, potentially slowing it down as it passes through the medium of space by just the smallest amount.

    The speed of gravity really does equal the speed of light, although we don’t derive it in the same fashion. Whereas Maxwell brought together electricity and magnetism — two phenomena that were previously independent and distinct — Einstein simply extended his theory of Special Relativity to apply to all spacetimes in general. While the theoretical motivation for the speed of gravity equaling the speed of light was there from the start, it’s only with observational confirmation that we could know for certain. Gravitational waves really do travel at the speed of light!

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

     
  • richardmitnick 10:45 am on July 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "What Are Intermediate-Mass Black Holes?", Advanced Virgo, , , , , ,   

    From Discover Magazine: “What Are Intermediate-Mass Black Holes?” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    July 12, 2019
    Jake Parks

    1
    The hunt for intermediate-mass black holes (IMBH) has picked up over recent years, and there are now dozens of promising candidates. This artist’s concept depicts a 2,200 solar mass IMBH suspected to reside in the heart of the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, located some 15,000 light-years from Earth. (Credit: B. Kiziltan/T. Karacan)

    Black holes have long served as fodder for science fiction — and for good reason. These unimaginably dense objects contain so much matter trapped in such a small volume that their gravity prevents even light from escaping their surfaces.

    Although the first prediction of a black hole was made nearly 250 years ago by the English philosopher and clergyman John Michell, the first black hole candidate, Cygnus X-1, wasn’t discovered until 1971. Since then, astronomers have tirelessly chipped away at countless questions related to these once-mythical beasts. But one of the most basic and enduring questions remains: Do they come in all sizes?

    Small and Large, or Small to large?

    Over the past few decades, astronomers have compiled loads of evidence for the existence of black holes at both ends of the mass spectrum. Researchers have uncovered small black holes that weigh just a few to 100 times the mass of the sun, as well as supermassive black holes that can reach billions of times the mass of their star-sized brethren.

    Stellar-mass black holes are thought to form when a relatively massive star dies in spectacular fashion. As the exhausted star burns through its final traces of fuel, its immense gravity causes it to collapse in on itself. If the collapsing star isn’t too big, the infalling material rebounds off the star’s dense core. This causes a supernova explosion, often leaving behind a tiny white dwarf or neutron star. But if the surviving remnant is greater than about three solar masses, not even tightly packed neutrons can prevent the city-sized core from continuing to collapse into a stellar-mass black hole.

    On the other hand, there’s another class of black holes known as supermassive black holes, which serve as the central gravitational anchors of most, if not all, large galaxies. Though supermassive black holes are anywhere from millions to billions of times the mass of the sun, they pack all that matter into a region roughly the size of a single star. There are many lines of evidence that indicate these cosmic behemoths are common throughout the universe, but exactly how and when they formed still remains a mystery.

    But what about the in-betweeners? Shouldn’t there should be a class of mid-sized black holes that split the difference between stellar-mass and supermassive black holes? These cosmic middleweights, which would range from about 100 to 1 million solar masses — though the specific range varies depending on who you ask — are referred to as intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs). And although astronomers have found several compelling IMBH candidates spread throughout the universe, the jury is still out on whether they truly exist. However, the evidence is beginning to pile up.

    2
    Located roughly 290 million light-years from Earth, the edge-on spiral galaxy ESO 243-49 is thought to harbor one of the first strong candidates for an intermediate-mass black hole, HLX-1. The black hole (circled) was found near the edge of the galaxy within a cluster of young stars. (Credit: NASA/ESA/S. Farrell (University of Sydney and University of Leicester))

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Is Proof Out There?

    Though conclusive proof of IMBHs remains elusive, over the past few decades, there have been a number of studies that have uncovered intriguing evidence hinting at the existence of these not-so-big, not-so-small black holes.

    For example, in 2003, researchers used the ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory to identify two strong, distinct X-rays sources in the nearby starburst galaxy NGC 1313. Because black holes tend to ferociously gobble up material that gets too close and belch out high-energy radiation, they are some of the strongest known emitters of X-rays. And by pinpointing NGC 1313’s X-ray sources and studying how they periodically flash, in 2015, researchers were able to constrain the mass of one of the galaxy’s suspected black holes, known as NGC 1313 X-1 [The Astrophysical Journal Letters]. They calculated it’s about 5,000 times the mass of the Sun, give or take about 1,000 solar masses, which would put it firmly in the mass range of an intermediate-mass black hole.

    Likewise, in 2009, researchers uncovered even stronger evidence for the existence of a medium-sized black hole [Nature] . Located some 290 million light-years away near the edge of the galaxy ESO 243-49, the team observed an incredibly bright X-ray source called HLX-1 (Hyper-Luminous X-ray source 1) [Astronomy] that did not have an optical counterpart. This suggests the object is not simply a star or background galaxy. Additionally, the researchers found HLX-1’s X-ray signature varied with time, suggesting a black hole is brightening every time a nearby star makes a close approach, feeding gas to the black hole and causing brief outbursts of X-rays that then slowly fade away. Based on the brightness of the observed flashes, the researchers calculated a minimum mass of the black hole of about 500 times the mass of the Sun, though some estimates put its weight closer to 20,000 solar masses [The Astrophysical Letters].

    “Such a detection is essential,” said lead author Sean Farrell of the University of Leicester after the discovery [ScienceDaily]. “While it is already known that stellar-mass black holes are the remnants of massive stars, the formation mechanisms of supermassive black holes are still unknown.” Farrell went on to explain that “the identification of HLX-1 is therefore an important step towards a better understanding of the formation of the supermassive black holes that exist at the center of the Milky Way and other galaxies.

    More recently, astronomers have started to uncover strong evidence of wandering intermediate-mass black holes lurking near the heart of the Milky Way. For example, in January 2019, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to trace streams of gas orbiting an invisible object, thought to be an IMBH [The Astrophysical Journal Letters] , with an apparent mass of about 32,000 times the mass of the Sun.

    Located a scant 23 light-years from the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, the discovery suggests the newfound IMBH could merge with the roughly 4-million-solar-mass Sagittarius A* in the not-too-distant future. To help bolster the case for IMBHs wandering through the Milky Way, the researchers hope to use other oddly-orbiting gas clouds to probe our galaxy for more mid-sized black holes tucked away in gas-dominated regions.

    3
    So far, the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have teamed up to uncover 20 stellar-mass black holes in the process of merging to form black holes ranging from about 20 to 80 solar masses. Although LIGO-Virgo has not uncovered any IMBHs (over 100 solar masses), researchers are optimistic about spotting them in the future. (Credit: LIGO-Virgo/Frank Elavsky/Northwestern)

    The Hunt for IMBHs

    Moving forward, researchers will rely on a variety of methods to uncover a slew of more mid-sized black holes. By doing so, they not only hope to prove that IMBHs truly exist, but more importantly, they want to use IMBHs to help piece together how large black holes grow and evolve over time.

    Fortunately, astronomers are now in a prime position to do just that. Thanks to the recent successes of the LIGO-Virgo gravitational-wave project — which has identified 20 stellar-mass black holes [MPIGP] by probing the universe for gravitational waves that are produced when black holes merge — researchers have a new method for searching for small to mid-sized black holes.

    Although the LIGO-Virgo collaboration has yet to uncover gravitational waves from mergers between black holes larger than about 40 solar masses, according to the LIGO website [https://www.ligo.org/science/Publication-O1O2IMBH/index.php], “in [the] future, with improvement in [the] sensitivity of gravitational wave detector[s], we will have a better understanding of the frequency of IMBH mergers. The third observing run has started collecting data from April 1, 2019, and gravitational-wave scientists are very hopeful to observe these elusive sources soon!”

    So stay tuned, because over the next few years, we may find definitive proof of the missing link between small and super-sized black holes. And if we do, it will finally put this cosmic conundrum to rest once and for all. Only then will we be able to stop debating the existence of IMBHs, and instead focus on unraveling their origin stories, as well as those of supermassive black holes.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:44 pm on June 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA’s Fermi mission reveals record-setting gamma-ray bursts", Advanced Virgo, , , , , ,   

    From Stanford University: “NASA’s Fermi mission reveals record-setting gamma-ray bursts” 

    Stanford University Name
    From Stanford University

    June 13, 2019

    1
    NASA/DOE/FermiLAT Collaboration

    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    NASA/Fermi LAT

    Stanford has played a leading role in compiling Fermi’s gamma-ray bursts catalogs ever since the space observatory launched nearly 11 years ago.

    For 10 years, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has scanned the sky for gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the universe’s most luminous explosions. A new catalog of the highest-energy blasts provides scientists with fresh insights into how they work.

    “Fermi is an ongoing experiment that keeps producing good science,” said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “GRBs are really one of the most spectacular astronomical events that we witness.”

    The catalog was published in the June 13 edition of The Astrophysical Journal. More than 120 authors contributed to the paper, which was led by Omodei and Giacomo Vianello at Stanford, Magnus Axelsson at Stockholm University in Sweden, and Elisabetta Bissaldi at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and Polytechnic University in Bari, Italy.

    Stanford has played a leading role in compiling Fermi’s GRB catalogs ever since the space observatory launched nearly 11 years ago. “All of the analysis tools and methods that led to the preperation of the catalogs were developed at Stanford and SLAC,” Omodei said. “We’ve continued to refine the analysis techniques and increase the sensitivity of the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) to GRBs. For every GRB, we can characterize its duration, its temporal behavior, and its spectral properties.”

    GRBs emit gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light. Most GRBs occurs when some types of massive stars run out of fuel and collapse to create new black holes. Others happen when two neutron stars, superdense remnants of stellar explosions, merge. Both kinds of cataclysmic events create jetfers of particles that move near the speed of light. The gamma rays are produced in collisions of fast-moving material inside the jets and when the jets interact with the environment around the star.

    Astronomers can distinguish the two GRB classes by the duration of their lower-energy gamma rays. Short bursts from neutron star mergers last less than 2 seconds, while long bursts typically continue for a minute or more. The new catalog, which includes 17 short and 169 long bursts, describes 186 events seen by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) LAT over the last 10 years.

    Fermi observes these powerful bursts using two instruments. The LAT sees about one-fifth of the sky at any time and records gamma rays with energies above 30 million electron volts (MeV) — millions of times the energy of visible light. The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) sees the entire sky that isn’t blocked by Earth and detects lower-energy emission. All told, the GBM has detected more than 2,300 GRBs so far.

    Included in Fermi’s latest observation set are a number of record-setting and intriguing events, including the shortest burst ever recorded (GRB 081102B, which lasted just one-tenth of a second), the longest burst in the catalog (GRB 160623A, which remained illuminated for 10 hours), and the farthest known burst (GRB 080916C, located 12.2 billion light-years away in the constellation Carina).

    Also included in the new catalog is GRB 170817A, the first burst to have both its light and gravitational waves captured simultaneously. Light from the event — a product of two neutron stars crashing together — was recorded by Fermi’s GBM instrument, while the spacetime ripples it generated were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), the Virgo interferometer.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger

    Gravity is talking. Lisa will listen. Dialogos of Eide

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo came online in August 2018


    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    “Now that LIGO and VIRGO have begun another observation period, the astrophysics community will be on the lookout for more joint GRB and gravitational wave events” said Judy Racusin, a co-author and Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This catalog was a monumental team effort, and the result helps us learn about the population of these events and prepares us for delving into future groundbreaking finds.”

    The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Fermi was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Stanford University campus. No image credit

    Stanford University

    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

    Stanford University Seal

     
  • richardmitnick 9:49 am on May 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Virgo, , , , , , , , , , Persistent gravitational wave observables, , When two massive objects such as neutron stars or black holes collide they send shockwaves through the Universe rippling the very fabric of space-time itself.   

    From Cornell University via Science Alert: “Gravitational Waves Could Be Leaving Some Weird Lasting Effects in Their Wake” 


    From Cornell University

    via

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    8 MAY 2019
    MICHELLE STARR

    1
    (Henze/NASA)

    The faint, flickering distortions of space-time we call gravitational waves are tricky to detect, and we’ve only managed to do so in recent years. But now scientists have calculated that these waves may leave more persistent traces of their passing – traces we may also be able to detect.

    Such traces are called ‘persistent gravitational wave observables’, and in a new paper [Physical Review D], an international team of researchers [see paper for science team authors] has refined the mathematical framework for defining them. In the process, they give three examples of what these observables could be.

    Here’s the quick lowdown on gravitational waves: When two massive objects such as neutron stars or black holes collide, they send shockwaves through the Universe, rippling the very fabric of space-time itself. This effect was predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity in 1916, but it wasn’t until 2015 that we finally had equipment sensitive enough to detect the ripples.

    That equipment is an interferometer that shoots two or more laser beams down arms that are several kilometres in length. The wavelengths of these laser beams interfere to cancel each other out, so, normally, no light hits the instrument’s photodetectors.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger

    Gravity is talking. Lisa will listen. Dialogos of Eide

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo came online in August 2018


    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    But when a gravitational wave hits, the warping of space-time causes these laser beams to oscillate, shrinking and stretching. This means that their interference pattern is disrupted, and they no longer cancel each other out – so the laser hits the photodetector. The pattern of the light that hits can tell scientists about the event that created the wave.

    But that shrinking and stretching and warping of space-time, according to astrophysicist Éanna Flanagan of Cornell University and colleagues, could be having a much longer-lasting effect.

    As the ripples in space-time propagate, they can change the velocity, acceleration, trajectories and relative positions of objects and particles in their way – and these features don’t immediately return to normal afterwards, making them potentially observable.

    Particles, for instance, disturbed by a burst of gravitational waves, could show changes. In their new framework, the research team mathematically detailed changes that could occur in the rotation rate of a spinning particle, as well as its acceleration and velocity.

    Another of these persistent gravitational wave observables involves a similar effect to time dilation, whereby a strong gravitational field slows time.

    Because gravitational waves warp both space and time, two extremely precise and synchronised clocks in different locations, such as atomic clocks, could be affected by gravitational waves, showing different times after the waves have passed.

    Finally, the gravitational waves could actually permanently shift the relative positions in the mirrors of a gravitational wave interferometer – not by much, but enough to be detectable.

    Between its first detection in 2015 and last year, the LIGO-Virgo gravitational wave collaboration detected a handful of events before LIGO was taken offline for upgrades.

    At the moment, there are not enough detections in the bank for a meaningful statistical database to test these observables.

    But LIGO-Virgo was switched back on on 1 April, and since then has been detecting at least one gravitational wave event per week.

    The field of gravitational wave astronomy is heating up, space scientists are itching to test new mathematical calculations and frameworks, and it won’t be long before we’re positively swimming in data.

    This is just such an incredibly exciting time for space science, it really is.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:07 pm on May 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "LIGO and Virgo Detect Neutron Star Smash-Ups", Advanced Virgo, , Gravitatonal wave astronomy,   

    From MIT Caltech Advanced aLIGO: “LIGO and Virgo Detect Neutron Star Smash-Ups” 

    MIT Caltech Caltech Advanced aLigo new bloc

    From MIT Caltech Advanced aLIGO

    May 2, 2019

    On April 25, 2019, the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the European-based Virgo detector registered gravitational waves from what appears likely to be a crash between two neutron stars—the dense remnants of massive stars that previously exploded. One day later, on April 26, the LIGO-Virgo network spotted another candidate source with a potentially interesting twist: it may in fact have resulted from the collision of a neutron star and black hole, an event never before witnessed.

    “The universe is keeping us on our toes,” says Patrick Brady, spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “We’re especially curious about the April 26 candidate. Unfortunately, the signal is rather weak. It’s like listening to somebody whisper a word in a busy café; it can be difficult to make out the word or even to be sure that the person whispered at all. It will take some time to reach a conclusion about this candidate.”

    “NSF’s LIGO, in collaboration with Virgo, has opened up the universe to future generations of scientists,” says NSF Director France Córdova. “Once again, we have witnessed the remarkable phenomenon of a neutron star merger, followed up closely by another possible merger of collapsed stars. With these new discoveries, we see the LIGO-Virgo collaborations realizing their potential of regularly producing discoveries that were once impossible. The data from these discoveries, and others sure to follow, will help the scientific community revolutionize our understanding of the invisible universe.”

    The discoveries come just weeks after LIGO and Virgo turned back on. The twin detectors of LIGO—one in Washington and one in Louisiana—along with Virgo, located at the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) in Italy, resumed operations April 1, after undergoing a series of upgrades to increase their sensitivities to gravitational waves—ripples in space and time. Each detector now surveys larger volumes of the universe than before, searching for extreme events such as smash-ups between black holes and neutron stars.

    “Joining human forces and instruments across the LIGO and Virgo collaborations has been once again the recipe of an incomparable scientific month, and the current observing run will comprise 11 more months,” says Giovanni Prodi, the Virgo Data Analysis Coordinator, at the University of Trento and the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy. “The Virgo detector works with the highest stability, covering the sky 90 percent of the time with useful data. This is helping in pointing to the sources, both when the network is in full operation and at times when only one of the LIGO detectors is operating. We have a lot of groundbreaking research work ahead.”

    In addition to the two new candidates involving neutron stars, the LIGO-Virgo network has, in this latest run, spotted three likely black hole mergers. In total, since making history with the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015, the network has spotted evidence for two neutron star mergers, 13 black hole mergers, and one possible black hole-neutron star merger.

    When two black holes collide, they warp the fabric of space and time, producing gravitational waves. When two neutron stars collide, they not only send out gravitational waves but also light. That means telescopes sensitive to light waves across the electromagnetic spectrum can witness these fiery impacts together with LIGO and Virgo. One such event occurred in August 2017: LIGO and Virgo initially spotted a neutron star merger in gravitational waves and then, in the days and months that followed, about 70 telescopes on the ground and in space witnessed the explosive aftermath in light waves, including everything from gamma rays to optical light to radio waves.

    In the case of the two recent neutron star candidates, telescopes around the world once again raced to track the sources and pick up the light expected to arise from these mergers. Hundreds of astronomers eagerly pointed telescopes at patches of sky suspected to house the signal sources. However, at this time, neither of the sources has been pinpointed.

    “The search for explosive counterparts of the gravitational-wave signal is challenging due to the amount of sky that must be covered and the rapid changes in brightness that are expected,” says Brady. “The rate of neutron star merger candidates being found with LIGO and Virgo will give more opportunities to search for the explosions over the next year.”

    The April 25 neutron star smash-up, dubbed S190425z, is estimated to have occurred about 500 million light-years away from Earth. Only one of the twin LIGO facilities picked up its signal along with Virgo (LIGO Livingston witnessed the event but LIGO Hanford was offline). Because only two of the three detectors registered the signal, estimates of the location in the sky from which it originated were not precise, leaving astronomers to survey nearly one-quarter of the sky for the source.

    The possible April 26 neutron star-black hole collision (referred to as S190426c) is estimated to have taken place roughly 1.2 billion light-years away. It was seen by all three LIGO-Virgo facilities, which helped better narrow its location to regions covering about 1,100 square degrees, or about 3 percent of the total sky.

    “The latest LIGO-Virgo observing run is proving to be the most exciting one so far,” says David H. Reitze of Caltech, Executive Director of LIGO. “We’re already seeing hints of the first observation of a black hole swallowing a neutron star. If it holds up, this would be a trifecta for LIGO and Virgo—in three years, we’ll have observed every type of black hole and neutron star collision. But we’ve learned that claims of detections require a tremendous amount of painstaking work—checking and rechecking—so we’ll have to see where the data takes us.”

    The Collaborations

    LIGO is funded by NSF and operated by Caltech and MIT, which conceived of LIGO and led the Initial and Advanced LIGO projects.

    Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by the NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council-OzGrav) making significant commitments and contributions to the project.

    More than 1,200 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. A list of additional partners is available at https://my.ligo.org/census.php.

    The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 300 physicists and engineers belonging to 28 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; 11 from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with IFAE and the Universities of Valencia and Barcelona; two in Belgium with the Universities of Liege and Louvain; Jena University in Germany; and the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy, funded by CNRS, INFN, and Nikhef. A list of the Virgo Collaboration can be found at http://public.virgo-gw.eu/the-virgo-collaboration/. More information is available on the Virgo website at http://www.virgo-gw.eu.

    European Gravitational Observatory

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

     
  • richardmitnick 9:49 am on May 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Virgo, , , , , , , ,   

    From MIT News: “3 Questions: Salvatore Vitale on LIGO’s latest detections” 

    MIT News
    MIT Widget

    From MIT News

    May 2, 2019
    Jennifer Chu

    1
    Salvatore Vitale, assistant professor of physics at MIT and member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Courtesy of MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

    Kavli MIT Institute of Astrophysics and Space Research

    “We will keep listening for these faint and remote cosmic whispers,” says the physics professor.

    It’s been just three weeks since LIGO resumed its hunt for cosmic ripples through space-time, and already the gravitational-wave hunter is off to a running start.

    One of the detections researchers are now poring over is a binary neutron star merger — a collision of two incredibly dense stars, nearly 500 million light years away. The power of this stellar impact set off gravitational waves across the cosmos, eventually reaching Earth as infinitely small ripples that were picked up by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, operated jointly by Caltech and MIT), as well as by Virgo, LIGO’s counterpart in Italy, on April 25 at 4 a.m. ET.



    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo came online in August 2018

    Researchers have determined that the source of the gravitational wave signal is likely a binary neutron star merger, which they’ve dubbed #S190425z. This is the second time that LIGO has discovered such a source.

    The other neutron star merger, detected in 2017, was also the first event captured by LIGO that was also observed using optical telescopes. As astronomers around the world pointed telescopes at this first neutron star merger, they were able to see the brilliant “kilonova” explosion generated as the two stars merged. They also detected signatures of gold and platinum in the aftermath — direct evidence for how heavy elements are produced in the universe.

    With LIGO’s new detection, astronomers are again pointing telescopes to the skies and searching for optical traces of the stellar merger and any resulting cosmic goldmine.

    MIT News caught up with Salvatore Vitale, assistant professor of physics at MIT and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, about this newest stellar discovery and hints of even more “cosmic whispers” on the horizon — including the tantalizing possibility that LIGO has also captured the collision of a black hole and a neutron star.

    Q: Walk us through the moment of discovery. When did this signal come in, and what told you that it was likely a binary neutron star merger?

    A: The signal hit Earth at 4:18 a.m. EDT. Unfortunately, at that time the LIGO detector in Hanford, Washington, was not collecting data. The signal was thus detected by the LIGO instrument in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Virgo detector in Italy.

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Having only two detectors online did not affect our confidence of it being real, since neutron star binaries spend more than one minute in our detectors and these kinds of very long chirps cannot easily be confused with instrumental artifacts or other sources of noise. Similarly, we were able to measure extremely well the mass of the source, which told us it was a binary neutron star, the second ever detected by LIGO and Virgo.

    The main consequence of only having two detectors online was that it hurt our ability to localize the source in the sky. The sky map we sent out had a very large uncertainty, over 10,000 square degrees, which is a huge area to follow up, if you are looking for an electromagnetic counterpart.

    Q: Since the notice from LIGO went out, astronomers have been training telescopes on the sky. What have they been able to find about this new merger, and how is it different from the one LIGO detected in 2017?

    A: When two neutron stars smash one against the other, they trigger a cataclysmic explosion that releases huge amounts of energy and creates some of the heaviest elements in the universe (gold, among others). Finding both gravitational and electromagnetic waves can tell us about the environment in which these systems form, how they shine, their role in enriching galaxies with metals, and about the universe. This is why we routinely and automatically send public alerts to astronomers, so that they can try to identify the sources of our gravitational-wave events.

    This is challenging for S190425z, since it has been localized poorly (compare 10,000 square degrees for S190425z with 30 square degrees for the first binary neutron star merger, GW170817). Another important difference is that S190425z was nearly four times further away. Both these factors make it harder to successfully find an electromagnetic counterpart to S190425z. You want to scan a much larger area, and you want to find a weaker and more distant source. This doesn’t mean that astronomers are not trying hard! In fact, in the last 36 hours there have been dozens of observations. So far nothing too convincing, but a lot of excitement! It is nice to see the broader community so engaged with the follow-up of LIGO and Virgo’s events.

    Q: Since it started its newest observing run, LIGO has been detecting at least one gravitational wave source per week. What does this say about what sort of extreme phenomena are happening in the universe, on a daily basis?

    A: The last few weeks have been incredibly exciting! So far we are making discoveries at roughly the rate we were expecting: one binary black hole a week and one binary neutron star a month. This confirms our expectations that gravitational waves can really play a major role in understanding the most extreme objects of the universe.

    It also says that it is not uncommon that two stellar-mass black holes merge, which was not obvious at all before LIGO and Virgo discovered them. We still don’t know if the black holes pairs we are seeing had been together their whole cosmic life, first as normal stars, then as black holes, or if instead they were born separately and then just happened to meet and form a binary system. Both avenues are possible, and with a few more tens of detections we should be able to tell which of these two scenarios happens more often.

    Then there is always the possibility of detecting something new and unexpected! As I started drafting these answers, we detected #S190426c, which, if of astrophysical origin, could be the first neutron star colliding into a black hole ever detected by humans. We will know more in the next few weeks, and we will keep listening for these faint and remote cosmic whispers.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:16 am on April 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Virgo, , , , , , LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves From Another Neutron Star Merger,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Breaking: LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves From Another Neutron Star Merger” 

    DiscoverMag

    From Discover Magazine

    April 25, 2019

    1
    An artist’s illustration of two colliding neutron stars. (Credit: NASA/Swift/Dana Berry)

    For just the second time, physicists working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have caught the gravitational waves of two neutron stars colliding to form a black hole.

    The ripples in space time traveled some 500 million light-years and reached the detectors at LIGO, as well as its Italian sister observatory, Virgo, at around 4 a.m. E.T. on Thursday, April 25. Team members say there’s a more than 99 percent chance that the gravitational waves were created from a binary neutron star merger.


    Shot at a Kilonova

    In the moments after the event, a notice went out alerting astronomers around the world to turn their telescopes to the heavens in hopes of catching light from the explosion, which may have formed an extreme object called a kilonova. Kilonovas are 1,000 times brighter than normal novas, and they create huge amounts of heavy elements, like gold and platinum. That brightness makes it easy for astronomers to find these events in the night sky — provided they’ve been given a heads-up and location from LIGO first.

    LIGO’s twin L-shaped observatories — one in Washington state and one in Louisiana — work by shooting a laser beam down the long legs of their “L.”

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Their experimental setup is precise enough that even the minimal disturbance caused by a passing gravitational wave is enough to trigger a slight change in the laser’s appearance. It made the first ever detection of gravitational waves in 2016. Then it followed up by detecting merging neutron stars in 2017.

    Scientists use any slight delays between when signals reach the detectors to help them better triangulate where the waves originated in the sky. But one of LIGO’s twin detectors was offline Thursday when the gravitational wave reached Earth, making it hard for astronomers to triangulate exactly where the signal was coming from. That sent astronomers racing to image as many galaxies as they could across a region covering one-quarter of the sky.

    And instead of finding one potential binary neutron star merger, astronomers turned up at least two different candidates. Now the question is which, if any, are related to the gravitational wave that LIGO saw. Sorting that out will require more observations, which are already happening around the world as darkness falls.

    “I would assume that every observatory in the world is observing this now,” says astronomer Josh Simon of the Carnegie Observatories. “These two candidates (they’ve) found are relatively close to the equator, so they can be seen from both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.”

    Simon also says that, as of Thursday afternoon in the United States, telescopes in Europe and elsewhere should be gathering spectra on these objects. His fellow astronomers at the Carnegie Observatories plan to turn their telescopes at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory to the event as soon as darkness falls Thursday night.

    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    History-Making Merger

    LIGO’s first detection of a neutron star merger came in August of 2017, when scientists detected gravitational ripples from a collision that occurred about 130 million light years away. Astronomers around the world immediately turned their telescopes to the collision’s location in the sky, allowing them to gather a range of observations from across the electromagnetic spectrum.

    The 2017 detection was the first time an astronomical event had been observed with both light and gravitational waves, ushering in a new era of “multi-messenger astronomy.” The resulting information gave scientists invaluable data on how heavy elements are created, a direct measurement of the expansion of the universe and evidence that gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, among other things.

    This second observation appears to have been slightly too far away for astronomers to get some of of the data they had hoped for, such as how nuclear matter behaves during the intense explosions.

    2
    Researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, La., recently upgraded the massive instrument. (Ernie Mastroianni/Discover)

    And astronomers still aren’t sure whether the first detection they made came from a typical neutron star merger or whether it was more exotic. But to figure that out, they’d need observations as early as possible, and precious hours have already passed.

    “After the first event, it was clear that a lot of the action was going on immediately after the explosion, so we wanted to get observations as soon as possible,” Simon says. In this case, with one of LIGO’s detectors down, they couldn’t find the object as quickly as they did in 2017.

    So far, one difference is that, unlike last time, astronomers haven’t spotted any signs of gamma-ray bursts, says University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physicist Jolien Creighton, a LIGO team member.

    But regardless, having additional observations should help us learn more about these extreme cosmic collisions.

    “It gives us a much better handle on the rate of such collisions,” says Stefan Ballmer, associate physics professor at Syracuse University and LIGO member. “The upshot: if we just observe a little longer we will get the strong signal we are hoping for.”

    LIGO just started its third observing run a few weeks ago. And, in the past, these detections were kept a closely guarded secret until they were confirmed, peer-reviewed and published. But with this latest round, LIGO and Virgo have opened their detections up to the public. In this latest run, LIGO has also already detected three potential black hole collisions, bringing its total lifetime haul to 13.

    See the full article here .

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