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  • richardmitnick 9:08 pm on February 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, LIGO Receives New Funding to Search for More Extreme Cosmic Events   

    From Caltech: “LIGO Receives New Funding to Search for More Extreme Cosmic Events” 

    Caltech Logo

    From Caltech

    02/14/2019

    Whitney Clavin
    (626) 395-1856
    wclavin@caltech.edu

    1
    Engineers installing Advanced LIGO upgrades.
    Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

    Grants from the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia will fund next-generation improvements to LIGO.

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is awarding Caltech and MIT $20.4 million to upgrade the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), an NSF-funded project that made history in 2015 after making the first direct detection of ripples in space and time, called gravitational waves.


    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

    The investment is part of a joint international effort in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation and the Australian Research Council, which are contributing additional funds. While LIGO is scheduled to turn back on this spring, in its third run of the “Advanced LIGO” phase, the new funding will go toward “Advanced LIGO Plus.” Advanced LIGO Plus is expected to commence operations in 2024 and to increase the volume of deep space the observatory can survey by as much as seven times.

    “I’m extremely excited about the future prospects that the Advanced LIGO Plus upgrade affords gravitational-wave astrophysics,” said Caltech’s David Reitze, executive director of LIGO. “With it we expect to detect gravitational waves from black hole mergers on a daily basis, greatly increasing our understanding of this dark sector of the universe. Gravitational-wave observations of neutron star collisions, now very rare, will become much more frequent, allowing us to more deeply probe the structure of their exotic interiors.”

    Since LIGO’s first detection of gravitational waves from the violent collision of two black holes, it has observed nine additional black hole mergers and one collision of two dense, dead stars called neutron stars. The neutron star merger gave off not just gravitational waves but light waves, detected by dozens of telescopes in space and on the ground. The observations confirmed that heavy elements in our universe, such as platinum and gold, are created in neutron star smashups like this one.

    “This award ensures that NSF’s LIGO, which made the first historic detection of gravitational waves in 2015, will continue to lead in gravitational-wave science for the next decade,” said Anne Kinney, assistant director for NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, in a statement. “With improvements to the detectors—which include techniques from quantum mechanics that refine laser light and new mirror coating technology—the twin LIGO observatories will significantly increase the number and strength of their detections. Advanced LIGO Plus will reveal gravity at its strongest and matter at its densest in some of the most extreme environments in the cosmos. These detections may reveal secrets from inside supernovae and teach us about extreme physics from the first seconds after the universe’s birth.”

    Michael Zucker, the Advanced LIGO Plus leader and co-principal investigator, and a scientist at the LIGO Laboratory, operated by Caltech and MIT, said, “I’m thrilled that NSF, UK Research, and Innovation and the Australian Research Council are joining forces to make this key investment possible. Advanced LIGO has altered the course of astrophysics with 11 confirmed gravitational-wave events over the last three years. Advanced LIGO Plus can expand LIGO’s horizons enough to capture this many events each week, and it will enable powerful new probes of extreme nuclear matter as well as Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”

    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. LIGO partners with the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector and its collaboration, consisting of more than 300 physicists and engineers belonging to 28 different European research groups.

    See the full article here .


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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

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  • richardmitnick 1:32 pm on February 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Big Bang Observer, Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , , , Gravity is talking. Lisa will listen,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “Ask Ethan: How Can LISA, Without Fixed-Length Arms, Ever Detect Gravitational Waves?” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    2.2.19

    LIGO, here on Earth, has exquisitely-precise distances its lasers travel. With three spacecrafts in motion, how could LISA work?

    Since it began operating in 2015, advanced LIGO has ushered in an era of a new type of astronomy: using gravitational wave signals. The way we do it, however, is through a very special technique known as laser interferometry. By splitting a laser and sending each half of the beam down a perpendicular path, reflecting them back, and recombining them, we can create an interference pattern. If the lengths of those paths change, the interference pattern changes, enabling us to detect those waves. And that leads to the best question I got about science during my recent Astrotour in Iceland, courtesy of Ben Turner, who asked:

    LIGO works by having these exquisitely precise lasers, reflected down perfectly length-calibrated paths, to detect these tiny changes in distance (less than the width of a proton) induced by a passing gravitational wave. With LISA, we plan on having three independent, untethered spacecrafts freely-floating in space. They’ll be affected by all sorts of phenomena, from gravity to radiation to the solar wind. How can we possibly get a gravitational wave signal out of this?


    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)

    It’s a great question, and the toughest one posed to me all year thus far. Let’s explore the answer.

    2
    3D rendering of the gravitational waves emitted from a binary neutron star system at merger. The central region (in density) is stretched by a factor of ~5 for better visibility. The orientation of the merger itself determines how the signal will be polarized. (AEI POTSDAM-GOLM)

    Since the dawn of time, humanity has been practicing astronomy with light, which has progressed from naked-eye viewing to the use of telescopes, cameras, and wavelengths that go far beyond the limits of human vision. We’ve detected cosmic particles from space in a wide variety of flavors: electrons, protons, atomic nuclei, antimatter, and even neutrinos.

    But gravitational waves are an entirely new way for humanity to view the Universe. Instead of some detectable, discrete quantum particle that interacts with another, leading to a detectable signal in some sort of electronic device, gravitational waves act as ripples in the fabric of space itself. With a certain set of properties, including:

    propagation speed,
    orientation,
    polarization,
    frequency, and
    amplitude,

    they affect everything occupying the space that they pass through.

    3
    Gravitational waves propagate in one direction, alternately expanding and compressing space in mutually perpendicular directions, defined by the gravitational wave’s polarization. Gravitational waves themselves, in a quantum theory of gravity, should be made of individual quanta of the gravitational field: gravitons. (M. PÖSSEL/EINSTEIN ONLINE)

    When one of these gravitational waves passes through a LIGO-like detector, it does exactly what you might suspect. The gravitational wave, along the direction it propagates at the speed of gravity (which equals the speed of light), doesn’t affect space at all. Along the plane perpendicular to its propagation, however, it alternately causes space to expand and contract in mutually perpendicular directions. There are multiple types of polarization that are possible:

    “plus” (+) polarization, where the up-down and left-right directions expand and contract,
    “cross” (×) polarization, where the left-diagonal and right-diagonal directions expand and contract,
    or “circularly” polarized waves, similar to way light can be circularly polarized; this is a different parameterization of plus and cross polarizations.

    Whatever the physical case, the polarization is determined by the nature of the source.

    When a wave enters a detector, any two perpendicular directions will be compelled to contract and expand, alternately and in-phase, relative to one another. The amount that they contract or expand is related to the amplitude of the wave. The period of the expansion and contraction is determined by the frequency of the wave, which a detector of a specific arm length (or effective arm length, where there are multiple reflections down the arms, as in the case of LIGO) will be sensitive to.

    With multiple such detectors in a variety of orientations to one another in three-dimensional space, the location, orientation, and even polarization of the original source can be reconstructed. By using the predictive power of Einstein’s General Relativity and the effects of gravitational waves on the matter-and-energy occupying the space they pass through, we can learn about events happening all across the Universe.

    4
    LIGO and Virgo have discovered a new population of black holes with masses that are larger than what had been seen before with X-ray studies alone (purple). This plot shows the masses of all ten confident binary black hole mergers detected by LIGO/Virgo (blue), along with the one neutron star-neutron star merger seen (orange). LIGO/Virgo, with the upgrade in sensitivity, should detect multiple mergers every week. (LIGO/VIRGO/NORTHWESTERN UNIV./FRANK ELAVSKY)

    But it’s only due to the extraordinary technical achievement of these interferometers that we can actually make these measurements. In a terrestrial, LIGO-like detector, the distances of the two perpendicular arms are fixed. Laser light, even if reflected back-and-forth along the arms thousands of times, will eventually see the two beams come back together and construct a very specific interference pattern.

    If the noise can be minimized below a certain level, the pattern will hold absolutely steady, so long as no gravitational waves are present.

    If, then, a gravitational wave passes through, and one arm contracts while the other expands, the pattern will shift.

    5
    When the two arms are of exactly equal length and there is no gravitational wave passing through, the signal is null and the interference pattern is constant. As the arm lengths change, the signal is real and oscillatory, and the interference pattern changes with time in a predictable fashion. (NASA’S SPACE PLACE)

    By measuring the amplitude and frequency at which the pattern shifts, the properties of a gravitational wave can be reconstructed. By measuring a coincident signal in multiple such gravitational wave detectors, the source properties and location can be reconstructed as well. The more detectors with differing orientations and locations are present, the better-constrained the properties of the gravitational wave source will be.

    This is why adding the Virgo detector to the twin LIGO detectors in Livingston and Hanford enabled a far superior reconstruction of the location of gravitational wave sources. In the future, additional LIGO-like detectors in Japan and India will allow scientists to pinpoint gravitational waves in an even superior fashion.

    But there’s a limit to what we can do with detectors like this. Seismic noise from being located on the Earth itself limits how sensitive a ground-based detector can be. Signals below a certain amplitude can never be detected. Additionally, when light signals are reflected between mirrors, the noise generated by the Earth accumulates cumulatively.

    The fact that the Earth itself exists in the Solar System, even if there were no plate tectonics, ensures that the most common type of gravitational wave events — binary stars, supermassive black holes, and other low-frequency sources (taking 100 seconds or more to oscillate) — cannot be seen from the ground. Earth’s gravitational field, human activity, and natural geological processes means that these low-frequency signals cannot be practically seen from Earth. For that, we need to go to space.

    And that’s where LISA comes in.

    5
    The sensitivities of a variety of gravitational wave detectors, old, new, and proposed. Note, in particular, Advanced LIGO (in orange), LISA (in dark blue), and BBO (in light blue). LIGO can only detect low-mass and short-period events; longer-baseline, lower-noise observatories are needed for more massive black holes. (MINGLEI TONG, CLASS.QUANT.GRAV. 29 (2012) 155006)

    LISA is the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. In its current design, it consists of three dual-purpose spacecrafts, separated in an equilateral triangle configuration by roughly 5,000,000 kilometers along each laser arm.

    Inside each spacecraft, there are two free-floating cubes that are shielded by the spacecraft itself from the effects of interplanetary space. They will remain at a constant temperature, pressure, and will be unaffected by the solar wind, radiation pressure, or the bombardment of micrometeorites.

    By carefully measuring the distances between pairs of cubes on different spacecrafts, using the same laser interferometry technique, scientists can do everything that multiple LIGO detectors do, except for these long-period gravitational waves that only LISA is sensitive to. Without the Earth to create noise, it seems like an ideal setup.

    6
    The primary scientific goal of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission is to detect and observe gravitational waves from massive black holes and galactic binaries with periods in the range of a tens of seconds to a few hours. This low-frequency range is inaccessible to ground-based interferometers because of the unshieldable background of local gravitational noise arising from atmospheric effects and seismic activity. (ESA-C. VIJOUX)

    But even without the terrestrial effects of human activity, seismic noise, and being deep within Earth’s gravitational field, there are still sources of noise that LISA must contend with. The solar wind will strike the detectors, and the LISA spacecrafts must be able to compensate for that. The gravitational influence of other planets and solar radiation pressure will induce tiny orbital changes relative to one another. Quite simply, there is no way to hold the spacecract at a fixed, constant distance of exactly 5 million km, relative to one another, in space. No amount of rocket fuel or electric thrusters will be able to maintain that exactly.

    Remember: the goal is to detect gravitational waves — themselves a tiny, minuscule signal — over and above the background of all this noise.

    7
    The three LISA spacecraft will be placed in orbits that form a triangular formation with center 20° behind the Earth and side length 5 million km. This figure is not to scale. (NASA)

    So how does LISA plan to do it?

    The secret is in these gold-platinum alloy cubes. In the center of each optical system, a solid cube that’s 4 centimeters (about 1.6″) on each side floats freely in the weightless conditions of space. While external sensors monitor the solar wind and solar radiation pressure, with electronic sensors compensating for those extraneous forces, the gravitational forces from all the known bodies in the Solar System can be calculated and anticipated.

    As the spacecrafts, and the cubes, move relative to one another, the lasers adjust in a predictable, well-known fashion. So long as they continue to reflect off of the cubes, the distances between them can be measured.

    The gold-platinum alloy cubes, of central importance to the upcoming LISA mission, have already been built and tested in the proof-of-concept LISA Pathfinder mission

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder

    It’s not a matter of keeping the distances fixed and measuring a tiny change due to a passing wave; it’s a matter of understanding exactly how the distances will behave over time, accounting for them, and then looking for the periodic departures from those measurements to a high-enough precision. LISA won’t hold the three spacecrafts in a fixed position, but will allow them to adjust freely as Einstein’s laws dictate. It’s only because gravity is so well-understood that the additional signal of the gravitational waves, assuming the wind and radiation from the Sun is sufficiently compensated for, can be teased out.

    8
    The proposed ‘Big Bang Observer’ would take the design of LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, and create a large equilateral triangle around Earth’s orbit to get the longest-baseline gravitational wave observatory ever. (GREGORY HARRY, MIT, FROM THE LIGO WORKSHOP OF 2009, LIGO-G0900426)

    If we want to go even farther, we have dreams of putting three LISA-like detectors in an equilateral triangle around different points in Earth’s orbit: a proposed mission called Big Bang Observer (BBO). While LISA can detect binary systems with periods ranging from minutes to hours, BBO will be able to detect the grandest behemonths of all: supermassive binary black holes anywhere in the Universe, with periods of years.

    If we’re willing to invest in it, space-based gravitational wave observatories could allow us to map out all of the most massive, densest objects located throughout the entire Universe. The key isn’t holding your laser arms fixed, but simply in knowing exactly how, in the absence of gravitational waves, they’d move relative to one another. The rest is simply a matter of extracting the signal of each gravitational wave out. Without the Earth’s noise to slow us down, the entire cosmos is within our reach.

    See the full article here .

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    “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 12:15 pm on January 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , KAGRA,   

    From Science News: “A new gravitational wave detector is almost ready to join the search” 

    From Science News

    January 18, 2019
    Emily Conover

    Japan’s KAGRA experiment tests new techniques for spotting ripples in spacetime.

    KAGRA gravitational wave detector, Kamioka mine in Kamioka-cho, Hida-city, Gifu-prefecture, Japan

    KAGRA tunnel

    In the quest for better gravitational wave detectors, scientists are going cold.

    An up-and-coming detector called KAGRA aims to spot spacetime ripples by harnessing advanced technological twists: chilling key components to temperatures hovering just above absolute zero, and placing the ultrasensitive setup in an enormous underground cavern.

    Scientists with KAGRA, located in Kamioka, Japan, now have results from their first ultrafrigid tests. Those experiments suggest that the detector should be ready to start searching for gravitational waves later in 2019, the team reports January 14 at arXiv.org.

    The new detector will join similar observatories in the search for the minute cosmic undulations, which are stirred up by violent events like collisions of black holes. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO, has two detectors located in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Another observatory, Virgo, is located near Pisa, Italy.


    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)

    Those detectors sit above ground, and don’t use the cooling technique, making KAGRA the first of its kind.

    KAGRA consists of two 3-kilometer-long arms, arranged in an “L” shape. Within each arm, laser light bounces back and forth between two mirrors located at both ends. The light acts like a giant measuring stick, capturing tiny changes in the length of each arm, which can be caused by a passing gravitational wave stretching and squeezing spacetime.

    2
    FREEZE UP KAGRA’s mirrors (one shown) are cooled to very low temperatures to prevent jiggling that could hamper the search for gravitational waves.

    Because gravitational wave detectors measure length changes tinier than the diameter of a proton, minuscule effects like the jiggling of molecules on the mirrors’ surfaces can interfere with the measurements. Cooling the mirrors to about 20 kelvins (–253° Celsius) limits that jiggling.

    In the new tests, performed in spring 2018, researchers cooled only one of KAGRA’s four mirrors, says KAGRA leader Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo. When the detector starts up for real, the others will be chilled too.

    Having the detector underground also helps keep the mirrors from vibrating due to activity on Earth’s surface. LIGO is so sensitive that it can be affected by rumbling trucks, a stiff breeze or even mischievous wildlife (SN Online: 4/18/18). KAGRA’s underground lair should be significantly quieter.

    Building underground and going cold required years of effort from KAGRA’s researchers. “They’ve taken on these two great challenges, which are both important to the long-term future of the field,” says LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker of MIT. In the future, even more advanced gravitational wave detectors could build on KAGRA’s techniques.

    For now, adding KAGRA to the existing observatories should help scientists improve their studies of where gravitational wiggles come from. Once scientists detect a gravitational wave signal, they alert astronomers, who search for light from the cataclysm that generated the waves in the hope of better understanding the event (SN: 11/11/17, p. 6). Having an additional gravitational wave detector in a different part of the world will help better triangulate wave sources. “This feature is very important,” Kajita says, “because telescopes can only see a small part of the sky at a time.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:26 pm on December 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A Jet from Neutron Star Merger GW170817, , , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , ,   

    From AAS NOVA: ” A Jet from Neutron Star Merger GW170817″ 

    AASNOVA

    From AAS NOVA

    14 December 2018
    Kerry Hensley

    1
    This artist’s impression of a black hole that formed after two neutron stars collided shows an accretion disk and a narrow jet. [NASA/CXC/M.Weiss]

    Just last year, the three observatories of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)–Virgo Collaboration detected the gravitational-wave signature of two neutron stars colliding. What can we learn from the months of observations made since?


    2
    On 17 August, 2017, LIGO detected this “chirp” as two neutron stars spiraled inward and collided. This brief gravitational-wave blip, known as GW170817, has been followed up with months of multiwavelength observations. [LSC/Alex Nitz]

    When Worlds Collide

    Immediately following the detection of gravitational-wave event GW170817, teams of astronomers around the world rushed to pinpoint and characterize the electromagnetic radiation from the source.

    These early observations were hugely important for validating our understanding of what happens when neutron stars collide, but the work didn’t end there; in the months that followed, repeated measurements of the flux across the electromagnetic spectrum have provided us with the tools to probe what happened in the aftermath of the merger.

    These late-time observations should allow us to distinguish between two competing post-merger scenarios, in which the resultant relativistic jet either pushes past the previously ejected material surrounding the remnant (the “jet-dominated outflow” model) or fails to escape the slow-moving shroud of material (the “cocoon-dominated outflow” model) and is choked.

    3
    Radio spectral indices from 6 to 10 months post merger. Combining all the radio data gives a spectral index of -0.53. The black line shown for reference is the radio-to-X-ray spectral index measurement. [Mooley et al. 2018]

    Tuning in to GW170817

    In order to characterize the nature of the outflow and determine which scenario describes GW170817, a team led by Kunal Mooley (National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Caltech) analyzed the decline of GW170817’s radio emission over time. The authors combined data from multiple radio sources — MeerKAT, Very Large Array (VLA), Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (uGMRT), and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) — to cover the radio emission from 0.65 to 12 GHz.

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, an array of thirty telecopes, located near Pune in India

    CSIRO Australia Compact Array, six radio telescopes at the Paul Wild Observatory, is an array of six 22-m antennas located about twenty five kilometres (16 mi) west of the town of Narrabri in Australia.

    After steadily rising for 5–6 months after the event, the radio emission peaked and quickly began to decline, making the transition from rising to falling in just a few weeks. The authors focused on two important features of the radio light curve: how rapidly the flux density decreases after the peak (the power-law decay index) and how “sharp” the peak of the light curve is.

    4
    Radio data used in this study. All measurements have been scaled to 3 GHz. The black line is the best-fit model. [Mooley et al. 2018]

    Jet vs. Cocoon

    Models tell us that if GW170817’s jet were choked by a slow-moving cocoon of material, the radio observations would reveal a power-law decay index of -0.88. If instead the jet punches free of the material as in the jet-dominated outflow model, its flux density would decrease much more rapidly, exhibiting a power-law decay index of -2.17.
    So which model do the radio observations of GW170817 support? All of the post-peak data are well-described by a single power-law decay with an index of -2.4. This strongly supports the jet model over the cocoon model, and it suggests that the majority of the energy in the post-merger outflow is carried away by the jet.

    The sharpness of the light-curve peak is dependent upon the viewing angle and the width of the jet. Based on a simple jet model, the authors find that the jet is likely very narrow (with an opening angle of less than 10°) and the viewing angle is less than 28°. Future modeling will explore the effects that structure in the jet can have on how sharply peaked the radio light curve is and further our understanding of these highly energetic collisions.

    Citation

    “A Strong Jet Signature in the Late-time Light Curve of GW170817,” K. P. Mooley et al 2018 ApJL 868 L11.
    http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/aaeda7/meta

    See the full article here .


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    1

    AAS Mission and Vision Statement

    The mission of the American Astronomical Societyis to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

    The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.
    The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.
    The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.
    The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.
    The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

    Adopted June 7, 2009

     
  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on December 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , LIGO and Virgo Announce Four New Detections,   

    From MIT Caltech Advanced aLIGO: “LIGO and Virgo Announce Four New Detections” 

    From MIT Caltech Advanced aLIGO

    Valerio Boschi
    
Virgo-EGO Communication Office
    valerio.boschi@ego-gw.it;
    +39 050 752 463

    Antonella Varaschin
    
INFN Communications Office
    antonella.varaschin@presid.infn.it;
    +39 06 68400360

    Kimberly Allen

    Director of Media Relations and Deputy Director, MIT News Office
    allenkc@mit.edu;
    +1 617-253-2702

    Whitney Clavin

    Senior Content and Media Strategist
    Caltech Communications
    wclavin@caltech.edu;
    +1 626-395-1856

    John Toon

    Institute Research and Economic Development Communications
    Georgia Institute of Technology

    john.toon@comm.gatech.edu;
    +1 404-894-6986

    Amanda Hallberg Greenwell
    
Head, Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
    National Science Foundation
    agreenwe@nsf.gov;
    +1 703-292-8070

    1
    LIGO-Virgo/Frank Elavsky/Northwestern

    The observatories are also releasing their first catalog of gravitational-wave events.

    On Saturday, December 1, scientists attending the Gravitational Wave Physics and Astronomy Workshop in College Park, Maryland, presented new results from the National Science Foundation’s LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the European- based VIRGO gravitational-wave detector regarding their searches for coalescing cosmic objects, such as pairs of black holes and pairs of neutron stars. The LIGO and Virgo collaborations have now confidently detected gravitational waves from a total of 10 stellar-mass binary black hole mergers and one merger of neutron stars, which are the dense, spherical remains of stellar explosions. Six of the black hole merger events had been reported before, while four are newly announced.

    From September 12, 2015, to January 19, 2016, during the first LIGO observing run since undergoing upgrades in a program called Advanced LIGO, gravitational waves from three binary black hole mergers were detected. The second observing run, which lasted from November 30, 2016, to August 25, 2017, yielded one binary neutron star merger and seven additional binary black hole mergers, including the four new gravitational-wave events being reported now. The new events are known as GW170729, GW170809, GW170818, and GW170823, in reference to the dates they were detected.

    All of the events are included in a new catalog, also released Saturday, with some of the events breaking records. For instance, the new event GW170729, detected in the second observing run on July 29, 2017, is the most massive and distant gravitational-wave source ever observed. In this coalescence, which happened roughly 5 billion years ago, an equivalent energy of almost five solar masses was converted into gravitational radiation.

    GW170814 was the first binary black hole merger measured by the three-detector network, and allowed for the first tests of gravitational-wave polarization (analogous to light polarization).

    The event GW170817, detected three days after GW170814, represented the first time that gravitational waves were ever observed from the merger of a binary neutron star system. What’s more, this collision was seen in gravitational waves and light, marking an exciting new chapter in multi-messenger astronomy, in which cosmic objects are observed simultaneously in different forms of radiation.

    One of the new events, GW170818, which was detected by the global network formed by the LIGO and Virgo observatories, was very precisely pinpointed in the sky. The position of the binary black holes, located 2.5 billion light-years from Earth, was identified in the sky with a precision of 39 square degrees. That makes it the next best localized gravitational-wave source after the GW170817 neutron star merger.

    Caltech’s Albert Lazzarini, Deputy Director of the LIGO Laboratory, says “The release of four additional binary black hole mergers further informs us of the nature of the population of these binary systems in the universe and better constrains the event rate for these types of events.”

    “In just one year, LIGO and VIRGO working together have dramatically advanced gravitational- wave science, and the rate of discovery suggests the most spectacular findings are yet to come,” says Denise Caldwell, Director of NSF’s Division of Physics. “The accomplishments of NSF’s LIGO and its international partners are a source of pride for the agency, and we expect even greater advances as LIGO’s sensitivity becomes better and better in the coming year.”

    “The next observing run, starting in Spring 2019, should yield many more gravitational-wave candidates, and the science the community can accomplish will grow accordingly,” says David Shoemaker, spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and senior research scientist in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “It’s an incredibly exciting time.”

    “It is gratifying to see the new capabilities that become available through the addition of Advanced Virgo to the global network,” says Jo van den Brand of Nikhef (the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics) and VU University Amsterdam, who is the spokesperson for the Virgo Collaboration. “Our greatly improved pointing precision will allow astronomers to rapidly find any other cosmic messengers emitted by the gravitational-wave sources.” The enhanced pointing capability of the LIGO-Virgo network is made possible by exploiting the time delays of the signal arrival at the different sites and the so-called antenna patterns of the interferometers.

    “The new catalog is another proof of the exemplary international collaboration of the gravitational wave community and an asset for the forthcoming runs and upgrades”, adds EGO Director Stavros Katsanevas.

    The scientific papers describing these new findings, which are being initially published on the arXiv repository of electronic preprints, present detailed information in the form of a catalog of all the gravitational wave detections and candidate events of the two observing runs as well as describing the characteristics of the merging black hole population. Most notably, we find that almost all black holes formed from stars are lighter than 45 times the mass of the Sun. Thanks to more advanced data processing and better calibration of the instruments, the accuracy of the astrophysical parameters of the previously announced events increased considerably.

    Laura Cadonati, Deputy Spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, says “These new discoveries were only made possible through the tireless and carefully coordinated work of the detector commissioners at all three observatories, and the scientists around the world responsible for data quality and cleaning, searching for buried signals, and parameter estimation for each candidate — each a scientific specialty requiring enormous expertise and experience.”

    Related Links

    Paper: “GWTC-1: A Gravitational-Wave Transient Catalog of Compact Binary Mergers Observed by LIGO and Virgo during the First and Second Observing Runs

    Paper: “Binary Black Hole Population Properties Inferred from the First and Second Observing Runs of Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo

    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.

    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 1:44 pm on November 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A pair of inspiraling neutron stars, A possible scenario would be a neutrino created in the relativistic outflows of a merger of binary neutron stars or black holes or the core-collapse of a supernova all cataclysmic cosmic environments , , , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , , , , The detection of gravitational waves and neutrinos from a single source would set a new milestone in multimessenger astronomy, The scrutiny of an astrophysical source with three different messengers would not only be the next breakthrough in the field but would also confirm that multimessenger astronomy is the only path to a ,   

    From U Wisconsin IceCube Collaboration: “Multimessenger searches for sources of gravitational waves and neutrinos” 

    U Wisconsin ICECUBE neutrino detector at the South Pole

    IceCube employs more than 5000 detectors lowered on 86 strings into almost 100 holes in the Antarctic ice NSF B. Gudbjartsson, IceCube Collaboration

    Lunar Icecube

    IceCube DeepCore annotated

    IceCube PINGU annotated


    DM-Ice II at IceCube annotated

    From From U Wisconsin IceCube Collaboration

    09 Nov 2018
    Sílvia Bravo

    1
    Artist’s now iconic illustration of two merging neutron stars. The rippling space-time grid represents gravitational waves that travel out from the collision, while the narrow beams show the bursts of gamma rays and neutrinos that are shot out just seconds after the gravitational waves. Image: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

    Last year was an extraordinary year for multimessenger astrophysics. In August 2017, a gravitational wave and its electromagnetic counterpart emission were detected from a pair of inspiraling neutron stars. Only a month later, a high-energy neutrino was detected at the South Pole and electromagnetic follow-up observations helped identify the first likely source of very high energy neutrinos and cosmic rays.

    Since then, the dream of astrophysicists has been to join neutrinos and gravitational waves in the detection of a multimessenger source. According to our understanding of the extreme universe, a possible scenario would be a neutrino created in the relativistic outflows of a merger of binary neutron stars or black holes or the core-collapse of a supernova, all cataclysmic cosmic environments that should also produce gravitational waves.

    The IceCube, LIGO, Virgo, and ANTARES collaborations have used data from the first observing period of Advanced LIGO and from the two neutrino detectors to search for coincident neutrino and gravitational wave emission from transient sources.

    The goal was to explore the discovery potential of a multimessenger observation, i.e., of a source detection that needs both messengers to confirm its astrophysical origin. Scientists did not find any significant coincidence. The results, recently submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, set a constraint on the density of these sources.

    The detection of gravitational waves and neutrinos from a single source would set a new milestone in multimessenger astronomy, allowing the simultaneous study of the inner and outer processes powering high-energy emission from astrophysical objects.

    A joint detection would also significantly improve the localization of the source and enable faster and more precise electromagnetic follow-up observations. The scrutiny of an astrophysical source with three different messengers would not only be the next breakthrough in the field but would also confirm that multimessenger astronomy is the only path to a profound understanding of the extreme universe.

    Even though the current search was very limited in time, researchers have set a strong constraint for joint emission from core-collapse supernovas, while binary mergers remain secure as potential multimessenger sources of gravitational waves and high-energy neutrinos.

    This study used datasets, spanning less than 2.5 months, that are also limited by LIGO’s sensitivity, which will soon improve by a factor of 2. The addition of new LIGO and Virgo data as well as from IceCube and ANTARES will greatly increase the sensitivity of joint searches. In the longer term, future next-generation neutrino and gravitational wave detectors will boost the potential of discovery for these searches.

    See the full article here .

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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    IceCube is a particle detector at the South Pole that records the interactions of a nearly massless sub-atomic particle called the neutrino. IceCube searches for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars. The IceCube telescope is a powerful tool to search for dark matter, and could reveal the new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature. In addition, exploring the background of neutrinos produced in the atmosphere, IceCube studies the neutrinos themselves; their energies far exceed those produced by accelerator beams. IceCube is the world’s largest neutrino detector, encompassing a cubic kilometer of ice.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:46 pm on October 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell and pulsars, , , , , , Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, S0-2, , , Vera Rubin and Dark Matter   

    From The New York Times: “Trolling the Monster in the Heart of the Milky Way” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    Oct. 30, 2018
    Dennis Overbye

    In a dark, dusty patch of sky in the constellation Sagittarius, a small star, known as S2 or, sometimes, S0-2, cruises on the edge of eternity. Every 16 years, it passes within a cosmic whisker of a mysterious dark object that weighs some 4 million suns, and that occupies the exact center of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Star S0-2 Keck/UCLA Galactic Center Group

    For the last two decades, two rival teams of astronomers, looking to test some of Albert Einstein’s weirdest predictions about the universe, have aimed their telescopes at the star, which lies 26,000 light-years away. In the process, they hope to confirm the existence of what astronomers strongly suspect lies just beyond: a monstrous black hole, an eater of stars and shaper of galaxies.

    For several months this year, the star streaked through its closest approach to the galactic center, producing new insights into the behavior of gravity in extreme environments, and offering clues to the nature of the invisible beast in the Milky Way’s basement.

    One of those teams, an international collaboration based in Germany and Chile, and led by Reinhard Genzel, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, say they have found the strongest evidence yet that the dark entity is a supermassive black hole, the bottomless grave of 4.14 million suns.

    ESO VLT at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ),
    •KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ),
    •MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and
    •YEPUN (UT4; Venus – as evening star).
    elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo

    ESO VLT 4 lasers on Yepun

    The evidence comes in the form of knots of gas that appear to orbit the galactic center. Dr. Genzel’s team found that the gas clouds circle every 45 minutes or so, completing a circuit of 150 million miles at roughly 30 percent of the speed of light. They are so close to the alleged black hole that if they were any closer they would fall in, according to classical Einsteinian physics.

    Astrophysicists can’t imagine anything but a black hole that could be so massive, yet fit within such a tiny orbit.

    The results provide “strong support” that the dark thing in Sagittarius “is indeed a massive black hole,” Dr. Genzel’s group writes in a paper that will be published on Wednesday under the name of Gravity Collaboration, in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    “This is the closest yet we have come to see the immediate zone around a supermassive black hole with direct, spatially resolved techniques,” Dr. Genzel said in an email.

    1
    Reinhard Genzel runs the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich. He has been watching S2, in the constellation Sagittarius, hoping it will help confirm the existence of a supermassive black hole.Credit Ksenia Kuleshova for The New York Times.

    The work goes a long way toward demonstrating what astronomers have long believed, but are still at pains to prove rigorously: that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart not only of the Milky Way, but of many observable galaxies. The hub of the stellar carousel is a place where space and time end, and into which stars can disappear forever.

    The new data also help to explain how such black holes can wreak havoc of a kind that is visible from across the universe. Astronomers have long observed spectacular quasars and violent jets of energy, thousands of light-years long, erupting from the centers of galaxies.

    Roger Blandford, the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, said that there is now overwhelming evidence that supermassive black holes are powering such phenomena.

    “There is now a large burden of proof on claims to the contrary,” he wrote in an email. “The big questions involve figuring out how they work, including disk and jets. It’s a bit like knowing that the sun is a hot, gaseous sphere and trying to understand how the nuclear reactions work.”

    2
    Images of different galaxies — some of which have evocative names like the Black Eye Galaxy, bottom left, or the Sombrero Galaxy, second left — adorn a wall at the Max Planck Institute.Credit Ksenia Kuleshova for The New York Times.

    Sheperd Doeleman, a radio astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, called the work “a tour de force.” Dr. Doeleman studies the galactic center and hopes to produce an actual image of the black hole, using a planet-size instrument called the Event Horizon Telescope.

    Event Horizon Telescope Array

    Arizona Radio Observatory
    Arizona Radio Observatory/Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (ARO/SMT)

    ESO/APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment

    CARMA Array no longer in service
    Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA)

    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)
    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)

    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory
    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO)

    IRAM NOEMA interferometer
    Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30m

    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano

    CfA Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array, Chile

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL

    NSF CfA Greenland telescope

    Greenland Telescope

    Future Array/Telescopes

    Plateau de Bure interferometer
    Plateau de Bure interferometer

    The study is also a major triumph for the European Southern Observatory, a multinational consortium with headquarters in Munich and observatories in Chile, which had made the study of S2 and the galactic black hole a major priority. The organization’s facilities include the Very Large Telescope [shown above], an array of four giant telescopes in Chile’s Atacama Desert (a futuristic setting featured in the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace”), and the world’s largest telescope, the Extremely Large Telescope, now under construction on a mountain nearby.

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    Einstein’s bad dream

    Black holes — objects so dense that not even light can escape them — are a surprise consequence of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which ascribes the phenomenon we call gravity to a warping of the geometry of space and time. When too much matter or energy are concentrated in one place, according to the theory, space-time can jiggle, time can slow and matter can shrink and vanish into those cosmic sinkholes.

    Einstein didn’t like the idea of black holes, but the consensus today is that the universe is speckled with them. Many are the remains of dead stars; others are gigantic, with the masses of millions to billions of suns. Such massive objects seem to anchor the centers of virtually every galaxy, including our own. Presumably they are black holes, but astronomers are eager to know whether these entities fit the prescription given by Einstein’s theory.

    Andrea Ghez, astrophysicist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who leads a team of scientists observing S2 for evidence of a supermassive black hole UCLA Galactic Center Group

    Although general relativity has been the law of the cosmos ever since Einstein devised it, most theorists think it eventually will have to be modified to explain various mysteries, such as what happens at the center of a black hole or at the beginning of time; why galaxies clump together, thanks to unidentified stuff called dark matter; and how, simultaneously, a force called dark energy is pushing these clumps of galaxies apart.

    Women in STEM – Vera Rubin

    Fritz Zwicky discovered Dark Matter when observing the movement of the Coma Cluster

    Coma cluster via NASA/ESA Hubble

    But most of the real work was done by Vera Rubin

    Fritz Zwicky from http:// palomarskies.blogspot.com


    Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965, worked on Dark Matter (The Carnegie Institution for Science)


    Vera Rubin measuring spectra, worked on Dark Matter (Emilio Segre Visual Archives AIP SPL)


    Vera Rubin, with Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) image tube spectrograph attached to the Kitt Peak 84-inch telescope, 1970. https://home.dtm.ciw.edu

    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

    The existence of smaller black holes was affirmed two years ago, when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, detected ripples in space-time caused by the collision of a pair of black holes located a billion light-years away.


    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)

    But those black holes were only 20 and 30 times the mass of the sun; how supermassive black holes behave is the subject of much curiosity among astronomers.

    “We already know Einstein’s theory of gravity is fraying around the edges,” said Andrea Ghez, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “What better places to look for discrepancies in it than a supermassive black hole?” Dr. Ghez is the leader of a separate team that, like Dr. Genzel’s, is probing the galactic center. “What I like about the galactic center is that you get to see extreme astrophysics,” she said.

    Despite their name, supermassive black holes are among the most luminous objects in the universe. As matter crashes down into them, stupendous amounts of energy should be released, enough to produce quasars, the faint radio beacons from distant space that have dazzled and baffled astronomers since the early 1960s.

    Women in STEM – Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars with radio astronomy. Jocelyn Bell at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge University, taken for the Daily Herald newspaper in 1968. Denied the Nobel.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 2009

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943 – ), still working from http://www. famousirishscientists.weebly.com

    Astronomers have long suspected that something similar could be happening at the center of the Milky Way, which is marked by a dim source of radio noise called Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star).

    Sgr A* from ESO VLT


    SgrA* NASA/Chandra


    SGR A* , the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

    But the galactic center is veiled by dust, making it all but invisible to traditional astronomical ways of seeing.

    Seeing in the dark

    Reinhard Genzel grew up in Freiburg, Germany, a small city in the Black Forest. As a young man, he was one of the best javelin throwers in Germany, even training with the national team for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Now he is throwing deeper.

    He became interested in the dark doings of the galactic center back in the 1980s, as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, under physicist Charles Townes, a Nobel laureate and an inventor of lasers. “I think of myself as a younger son of his,” Dr. Genzel said in a recent phone conversation.

    In a series of pioneering observations in the early 1980s, using detectors that can see infrared radiation, or heat, through galactic dust, Dr. Townes, Dr. Genzel and their colleagues found that gas clouds were zipping around the center of the Milky Way so fast that the gravitational pull of about 4 million suns would be needed to keep it in orbit. But whatever was there, it emitted no starlight. Even the best telescopes, from 26,000 light years away, could make out no more than a blur.

    3
    An image of the central Milky Way, which contains Sagittarius A*, taken by the VISTA telescope at the E.S.O.’s Paranal Observatory, mounted on a peak just next to the Very Large Telescope.CreditEuropean Southern Observatory/VVV Survey/D. Minniti/Ignacio Toledo, Martin Kornmesser


    Part of ESO’s Paranal Observatory, the VLT Survey Telescope (VISTA) observes the brilliantly clear skies above the Atacama Desert of Chile. It is the largest survey telescope in the world in visible light.
    Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    Two advances since then have helped shed some figurative light on whatever is going on in our galaxy’s core. One was the growing availability in the 1990s of infrared detectors, originally developed for military use. Another was the development of optical techniques that could drastically increase the ability of telescopes to see small details by compensating for atmospheric turbulence. (It’s this turbulence that blurs stars and makes them twinkle.)

    Glistening against the awesome backdrop of the night sky above ESO_s Paranal Observatory, four laser beams project out into the darkness from Unit Telescope 4 UT4 of the VLT.

    These keen eyes revealed hundreds of stars in the galaxy’s blurry core, all buzzing around in a circle about a tenth of a light year across. One of the stars, which Dr. Genzel calls S2 and Dr. Ghez calls S-02, is a young blue star that follows a very elongated orbit and passes within just 11 billion miles of the mouth of the putative black hole every 16 years.

    During these fraught passages, the star, yanked around an egg-shaped orbit at speeds of up to 5,000 miles per second, should experience the full strangeness of the universe according to Einstein. Intense gravity on the star’s surface should slow the vibration of light waves, stretching them and making the star appear redder than normal from Earth.

    This gravitational redshift, as it is known, was one of the first predictions of Einstein’s theory. The discovery of S2 offered astronomers a chance to observe the phenomenon in the wild — within the grip of gravity gone mad, near a supermassive black hole.

    4
    Left, calculations left out at the Max Planck Institute, viewed from above, right.Credit Ksenia Kuleshova for The New York Times

    In the wheelhouse of the galaxy

    To conduct that experiment, astronomers needed to know the star’s orbit to a high precision, which in turn required two decades of observations with the most powerful telescopes on Earth. “You need twenty years of data just to get a seat at this table,” said Dr. Ghez, who joined the fray in 1995.

    And so, the race into the dark was joined on two different continents. Dr. Ghez worked with the 10-meter Keck telescopes, located on Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island.


    Keck Observatory, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA.4,207 m (13,802 ft), above sea level, showing also NASA’s IRTF and NAOJ Subaru


    UCO Keck Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics

    Dr. Genzel’s group benefited from the completion of the European Southern Observatory’s brand new Very Large Telescope [above] array in Chile.

    The European team was aided further by a new device, an interferometer named Gravity, that combined the light from the array’s four telescopes.

    ESO GRAVITY insrument on The VLTI, interferometric instrument operating in the K band, between 2.0 and 2.4 μm. It combines 4 telescope beams and is designed to peform both interferometric imaging and astrometry by phase referencing. Credit: MPE/GRAVITY team

    Designed by a large consortium led by Frank Eisenhauer of the Max Planck Institute, the instrument enabled the telescope array to achieve the resolution of a single mirror 130 meters in diameter. (The name originally was an acronym for a long phrase that included words such as “general,” “relativity,” and “interferometry,” Dr. Eisenhauer explained in an email.)

    “All of the sudden, we can see 1,000 times fainter than before,” said Dr. Genzel in 2016, when the instrument went into operation. In addition, they could track the movements of the star S2 from day to day.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Ghez was analyzing the changing spectra of light from the star, to determine changes in the star’s velocity. The two teams leapfrogged each other, enlisting bigger and more sophisticated telescopes, and nailing down the characteristics of S2. In 2012 Dr. Genzel and Dr. Ghez shared the Crafoord Prize in astronomy, an award nearly as prestigious as the Nobel. Events came to head this spring and summer, during a six-month period when S2 made its closest approach to the black hole.

    “It was exciting in the middle of April when a signal emerged and we started getting information,” Dr. Ghez said.

    On July 26, Dr. Genzel and Dr. Eisenhauer held a news conference in Munich to announce that they had measured the long-sought gravitational redshift. As Dr. Eisenhauer marked off their measurements, which matched a curve of expected results, the room burst into applause.

    “The road is wide open to black hole physics,” Dr. Eisenhauer proclaimed.

    In an email a month later, Dr. Genzel explained that detecting the gravitational redshift was only the first step: “I am usually a fairly sober, and sometimes pessimistic person. But you may sense my excitement as I write these sentences, because of these wonderful results. As a scientist (and I am 66 years old) one rarely if ever has phases this productive. Carpe Diem!”

    In early October, Dr. Ghez, who had waited to observe one more phase of the star’s trip, said her team soon would publish their own results.

    A monster in the basement

    In the meantime, Dr. Genzel was continuing to harvest what he called “this gift from nature.”

    The big break came when his team detected evidence of hot spots, or “flares,” in the tiny blur of heat marking the location of the suspected black hole. A black hole with the mass of 4 million suns should have a mouth, or event horizon, about 16 million miles across — too small for even the Gravity instrument to resolve from Earth.

    The hot spots were also too small to make out. But they rendered the central blur lopsided, with more heat on one side of the blur than the other. As a result, Dr. Genzel’s team saw the center of that blur of energy shift, or wobble, relative to the position of S2, as the hot spot went around it.

    As a result, said Dr. Genzel, “We see a little loop on the sky.” Later he added, “This is the first time we can study these important magnetic structures in a spatially resolved manner just like in a physics laboratory.”

    He speculated that the hot spots might be produced by shock waves in magnetic fields, much as solar flares erupt from the sun. But this might be an overly simplistic model, the authors cautioned in their paper. The effects of relativity turn the neighborhood around the black hole into a hall of mirrors, Dr. Genzel said: “Our statements currently are still fuzzy. We will have to learn better to reconstruct reality once we better understand exactly these mirages.”

    The star has finished its show for this year. Dr. Genzel hopes to gather more data from the star next year, as it orbits more distantly from the black hole. Additional observations in the coming years may clarify the star’s orbit, and perhaps answer other questions, such as whether the black hole was spinning, dragging space-time with it like dough in a mixer.

    But it may be hard for Dr. Genzel to beat what he has already accomplished, he said by email. For now, shrink-wrapping 4 million suns worth of mass into a volume just 45 minutes around was a pretty good feat “for a small boy from the countryside.”

    See the full article here .

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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 5:44 pm on October 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , ,   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Signs of mergers may help us prove supermassive black holes exist” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    28 October 2018
    Martin Krause

    Black holes with masses billions of times that of the sun have long been theorised. Now, research takes astronomy closer to proving the contention.

    1
    Visible light image of the radio galaxy Hercules A obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope superposed with a radio image taken by the Very Large Array of radio telescopes in New Mexico, USA. NASA

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    Observations of nature tend to throw up unexpected results and new mysteries – whether you’re investigating the rain forest or outer space. When radio astronomy took off in the 1950s, we had no idea that it would lead to the discovery that galaxies including our own seem to have terrifyingly large black holes at their centre – millions to billions of times the mass of the sun.

    A few decades later, we still haven’t been able to prove that these beasts – dubbed supermassive black holes – actually exist. But our new research, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, could one day help us do so.

    Early radio astronomers discovered that some galaxies emit radio waves (a type of electromagnetic radiation). They knew that galaxies sometimes collide and merge, and naturally wondered whether this could have something to do with the radio emission. Better observations, however, refuted this idea over the years.

    They also discovered that the radio waves were emitted as narrow jets, meaning that the power came from a tiny region in the nucleus. The radio power was indeed huge – often surpassing the luminosity of all the stars in the galaxy taken together. Various suggestions were made as to how such a huge amount of energy could be produced, and it was in the 1970s that scientists finally proposed [Astronomy and Astrophysics] that a supermassive black hole could be the culprit. The objects are nowadays known as quasars.

    Women in STEM – Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars with radio astronomy. Jocelyn Bell at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge University, taken for the Daily Herald newspaper in 1968. Denied the Nobel.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 2009

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943 – ), still working from http://www. famousirishscientists.weebly.com

    Theoretical models estimated that these objects would have a mass of an entire small galaxy concentrated in a space comparable to Earth’s orbit around the sun. But because only some galaxies produce energetic outbursts, it was unclear how common supermassive black holes would be. With the advent of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, the centres of nearby galaxies that did not emit radio bursts could finally be investigated. Did they contain supermassive black holes too?

    It turned out that many did – astronomers saw signs of gravitating masses influencing the matter around it without emitting any light. Even the Milky Way showed evidence of having a supermassive black hole at the centre, now known as Sgr A*.

    Sgr A* from ESO VLT


    SgrA* NASA/Chandra


    SGR A* , the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

    At this point, astronomers became increasingly convinced that supermassive black holes were a reality and could plausibly explain the extreme energetic outbursts from some galaxies.

    However, there is no definitive proof yet. That is despite the fact that some supermassive black holes emit jets – these come from the surroundings of the black hole rather than the black hole itself. So how do you prove the existence of something completely dark? A black hole as defined by Einstein’s theory of general relativity is a region of space bounded by a horizon – a surface from inside of which no light or material object can ever escape. So, it’s a pretty difficult task for astronomers: they need to see something that emits nothing.

    For smaller black holes the size of a stellar mass, a proof was indeed found: when two such objects merge, they emit gravitational waves, a tiny wobbling of space that was for the first time registered in 2015. The detection proved that black holes exist, that they sometimes form pairs and that they indeed merge. This was a tremendous success, honoured with the Nobel prize in 2017.

    We also have a good understanding of where normal sized black holes come from – they are what is left after a star much more massive than the sun has arrived at the end of its lifetime. But both the existence and the origin of supermassive black holes are shrouded in mystery.

    Spinning black holes

    We have now found indications that many of the radio jets produced by supermassive black holes may in fact be the result of these objects forming pairs, orbiting each other. We did this by comparing the observed radio maps of their regions with our computer models.

    The presence of a second black hole would make the jets produced by the first one change direction in a periodic way over hundreds of thousands of years. We realised that the cyclic change in jet direction would cause a very specific appearance in radio maps of the galaxy centre.

    2
    Lobes are created by the jets depositing energy to surrounding particles. Author provided.

    We found evidence of such a pattern in about 75% of our sample of “radio galaxies” (galaxies that emit radio waves), suggesting that supermassive black hole pairs are the rule, not the exception. Such pairs are actually expected to form after galaxies merge. Each galaxy contains a supermassive black hole, and since they are heavier than all the individual stars, they sink to the centre of the newly formed galaxy where they first form a close pair and then merge under emission of gravitational waves.

    While our observation provides an important piece of evidence for the existence of pairs of supermassive black holes, it’s not a proof either. What we observe are still the effects that the black holes somehow cause indirectly. Just like with normal black holes, a full proof of the existence of supermassive black hole pairs requires detection of gravitational waves emitted by them.

    Current gravitational wave telescopes can only detect gravitational waves from stellar mass black holes.


    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

    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)

    The reason is that they orbit around one another much faster, which leads to the production of higher frequency gravitational waves that we can detect. The next generation of instruments will however be able to register low frequency gravitational waves as well – potentially from supermassive black hole pairs.

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    This would finally prove their existence – half a century after they were first proposed. It’s an exciting time to be a scientist.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 3:29 pm on October 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , Gravitational waves could soon provide measure of universe’s expansion, , ,   

    From University of Chicago: “Gravitational waves could soon provide measure of universe’s expansion” 

    U Chicago bloc

    From University of Chicago

    Oct 22, 2018
    Louise Lerner

    1
    Image by Robin Dienel/The Carnegie Institution for Science

    UChicago scientists estimate, based on LIGO’s quick first detection of a first neutron star collision, that they could have an extremely precise measurement of the universe’s rate of expansion within five to ten years. [Too bad for me, I’ll be long gone.]

    Twenty years ago, scientists were shocked to realize that our universe is not only expanding, but that it’s expanding faster over time.

    Pinning down the exact rate of expansion, called the Hubble constant after famed astronomer and UChicago alumnus Edwin Hubble, has been surprisingly difficult. Since then scientists have used two methods to calculate the value, and they spit out distressingly different results. But last year’s surprising capture of gravitational waves radiating from a neutron star collision offered a third way to calculate the Hubble constant.

    Edwin Hubble at Caltech Palomar Samuel Oschin 48 inch Telescope, (credit: Emilio Segre Visual Archives/AIP/SPL)

    That was only a single data point from one collision, but in a new paper published Oct. 17 in Nature, three University of Chicago scientists estimate that given how quickly researchers saw the first neutron star collision, they could have a very accurate measurement of the Hubble constant within five to ten years.

    “The Hubble constant tells you the size and the age of the universe; it’s been a holy grail since the birth of cosmology. Calculating this with gravitational waves could give us an entirely new perspective on the universe,” said study author Daniel Holz, a UChicago professor in physics who co-authored the first such calculation from the 2017 discovery. “The question is: When does it become game-changing for cosmology?”

    In 1929, Edwin Hubble announced that based on his observations of galaxies beyond the Milky Way, they seemed to be moving away from us—and the farther away the galaxy, the faster it was receding. This is a cornerstone of the Big Bang theory, and it kicked off a nearly century-long search for the exact rate at which this is occurring.

    To calculate the rate at which the universe is expanding, scientists need two numbers. One is the distance to a faraway object; the other is how fast the object is moving away from us because of the expansion of the universe. If you can see it with a telescope, the second quantity is relatively easy to determine, because the light you see when you look at a distant star gets shifted into the red as it recedes. Astronomers have been using that trick to see how fast an object is moving for more than a century—it’s like the Doppler effect, in which a siren changes pitch as an ambulance passes.

    Major questions in calculations

    But getting an exact measure of the distance is much harder. Traditionally, astrophysicists have used a technique called the cosmic distance ladder, in which the brightness of certain variable stars and supernovae can be used to build a series of comparisons that reach out to the object in question.

    Cosmic Distance Ladder, skynetblogs

    “The problem is, if you scratch beneath the surface, there are a lot of steps with a lot of assumptions along the way,” Holz said.

    Perhaps the supernovae used as markers aren’t as consistent as thought. Maybe we’re mistaking some kinds of supernovae for others, or there’s some unknown error in our measurement of distances to nearby stars. “There’s a lot of complicated astrophysics there that could throw off readings in a number of ways,” he said.

    The other major way to calculate the Hubble constant is to look at the cosmic microwave background [CMB]—the pulse of light created at the very beginning of the universe, which is still faintly detectable.

    CMB per ESA/Planck

    While also useful, this method also relies on assumptions about how the universe works.

    The surprising thing is that even though scientists doing each calculation are confident about their results, they don’t match. One says the universe is expanding almost 10 percent faster than the other. “This is a major question in cosmology right now,” said the study’s first author, Hsin-Yu Chen, then a graduate student at UChicago and now a fellow with Harvard University’s Black Hole Initiative.

    Then the LIGO detectors picked up their first ripple in the fabric of space-time from the collision of two stars last year.


    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)

    This not only shook the observatory, but the field of astronomy itself: Being able to both feel the gravitational wave and see the light of the collision’s aftermath with a telescope gave scientists a powerful new tool. “It was kind of an embarrassment of riches,” Holz said.

    Gravitational waves offer a completely different way to calculate the Hubble constant. When two massive stars crash into each other, they send out ripples in the fabric of space-time that can be detected on Earth. By measuring that signal, scientists can get a signature of the mass and energy of the colliding stars. When they compare this reading with the strength of the gravitational waves, they can infer how far away it is.

    This measurement is cleaner and holds fewer assumptions about the universe, which should make it more precise, Holz said. Along with Scott Hughes at MIT, he suggested the idea of making this measurement with gravitational waves paired with telescope readings in 2005. The only question is how often scientists could catch these events, and how good the data from them would be.

    4
    Illustration by A. Simon
    Unlike previous LIGO detections of black holes merging, the two neutron stars that collided sent out a bright flash of light—making it visible to telescopes on Earth.

    [ See https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/from-ucsc-neutron-stars-gravitational-waves-and-all-the-gold-in-the-universe/ ]

    ‘It’s only going to get more interesting’

    The paper predicts that once scientists have detected 25 readings from neutron star collisions, they’ll measure the expansion of the universe within an accuracy of 3 percent. With 200 readings, that number narrows to 1 percent.

    “It was quite a surprise for me when we got into the simulations,” Chen said. “It was clear we could reach precision, and we could reach it fast.”

    A precise new number for the Hubble constant would be fascinating no matter the answer, the scientists said. For example, one possible reason for the mismatch in the other two methods is that the nature of gravity itself might have changed over time. The reading also might shed light on dark energy, a mysterious force responsible for the expansion of the universe.

    “With the collision we saw last year, we got lucky—it was close to us, so it was relatively easy to find and analyze,” said Maya Fishbach, a UChicago graduate student and the other author on the paper. “Future detections will be much farther away, but once we get the next generation of telescopes, we should be able to find counterparts for these distant detections as well.”

    The LIGO detectors are planned to begin a new observing run in February 2019, joined by their Italian counterparts at VIRGO. Thanks to an upgrade, the detectors’ sensitivities will be much higher—expanding the number and distance of astronomical events they can pick up.

    “It’s only going to get more interesting from here,” Holz said.

    The authors ran calculations at the University of Chicago Research Computing Center.

    Funding: Kavli Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Chicago Campus

    An intellectual destination

    One of the world’s premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.

    University of Chicago

    An intellectual destination

    One of the world’s premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.

    The University of Chicago is an urban research university that has driven new ways of thinking since 1890. Our commitment to free and open inquiry draws inspired scholars to our global campuses, where ideas are born that challenge and change the world.

    We empower individuals to challenge conventional thinking in pursuit of original ideas. Students in the College develop critical, analytic, and writing skills in our rigorous, interdisciplinary core curriculum. Through graduate programs, students test their ideas with UChicago scholars, and become the next generation of leaders in academia, industry, nonprofits, and government.

    UChicago research has led to such breakthroughs as discovering the link between cancer and genetics, establishing revolutionary theories of economics, and developing tools to produce reliably excellent urban schooling. We generate new insights for the benefit of present and future generations with our national and affiliated laboratories: Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

    The University of Chicago is enriched by the city we call home. In partnership with our neighbors, we invest in Chicago’s mid-South Side across such areas as health, education, economic growth, and the arts. Together with our medical center, we are the largest private employer on the South Side.

    In all we do, we are driven to dig deeper, push further, and ask bigger questions—and to leverage our knowledge to enrich all human life. Our diverse and creative students and alumni drive innovation, lead international conversations, and make masterpieces. Alumni and faculty, lecturers and postdocs go on to become Nobel laureates, CEOs, university presidents, attorneys general, literary giants, and astronauts.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:21 pm on October 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "We have a case of cosmic look-alikes " said co-author Geoffrey Ryan of UMCP-so the simplest explanation is that they are from the same family of objects.", , , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , GW170817 and GRB 150101B, ,   

    From NASA Chandra: All in the Family: Kin of Gravitational-Wave Source Discovered 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    From NASA Chandra

    October 16, 2018
    Media contacts:
    Megan Watzke
    Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
    617-496-7998
    mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

    1
    Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/UMC/E. Troja et al.; Optical and infrared: NASA/STScI

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    A source with remarkable similarities to GW170817, the first source identified to emit gravitational waves and light, has been discovered.

    This new object, called GRB 150101B, was first seen as a gamma-ray burst in January 2015.

    Follow-up observations with Chandra and several other telescopes at different wavelengths uncovered common traits between the two objects.

    Chandra images showed how GRB 150101B faded with time, a key piece of information.

    About a year ago, astronomers excitedly reported the first detection of electromagnetic waves, or light, from a gravitational wave source. Now, a year later, researchers are announcing the existence of a cosmic relative to that historic event.

    The discovery was made using data from telescopes including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, the NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT).

    NASA/Fermi LAT


    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory


    Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory, Happy Jack AZ, USA, Altitude 2,360 m (7,740 ft)

    The object of the new study, called GRB 150101B, was first reported as a gamma-ray burst detected by Fermi in January 2015. This detection and follow-up observations at other wavelengths show GRB 150101B shares remarkable similarities to the neutron star merger and gravitational wave source discovered by Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart Virgo in 2017 known as GW170817. The latest study concludes that these two separate objects may, in fact, be related.


    “It’s a big step to go from one detected object to two,” said Eleonora Troja, lead author of the study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP). “Our discovery tells us that events like GW170817 and GRB 150101B could represent a whole new class of erupting objects that turn on and off in X-rays and might actually be relatively common.”

    Troja and her colleagues think both GRB 150101B and GW170817 were most likely produced by the same type of event: the merger of two neutron stars, a catastrophic coalescence that generated a narrow jet, or beam, of high-energy particles. The jet produced a short, intense burst of gamma rays (known as a short GRB), a high-energy flash that can last only seconds. GW170817 proved that these events may also create ripples in space-time itself called gravitational waves.

    The apparent match between GRB 150101B and GW170817 is striking: both produced an unusually faint and short-lived gamma ray burst, and both were a source of bright, blue optical light lasting a few days, and X-ray emission lasted much longer. The host galaxies are also remarkably similar, based on Hubble Space Telescope and DCT observations. Both are bright elliptical galaxies with a population of stars a few billion years old and displaying no evidence for new stars forming.

    “We have a case of cosmic look-alikes,” said co-author Geoffrey Ryan of UMCP. “They look the same, act the same and come from similar neighborhoods, so the simplest explanation is that they are from the same family of objects.”

    In the cases of both GRB 150101B and GW170817, the slow rise in the X-ray emission compared to most GRBs implies that the explosion was likely viewed “off-axis,” that is, with the jet not pointing directly towards the Earth. The discovery of GRB150101 represents only the second time astronomers have ever detected an off-axis short GRB.

    While there are many commonalities between GRB 150101B and GW170817, there are two very important differences. One is their location. GW170817 is about 130 million light years from Earth, while GRB 150101B lies about 1.7 billion light years away. Even if Advanced LIGO had been operating in early 2015, it would very likely not have detected gravitational waves from GRB 150101B because of its greater distance.

    “The beauty of GW170817 is that it gave us a set of characteristics, kind of like genetic markers, to identify new family members of explosive objects at even greater distances than LIGO can currently reach,” said co-author Luigi Piro of National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome.

    The optical emission from GB150101B is largely in the blue portion of the spectrum, providing an important clue that this event involved a so-called kilonova, as seen in GW170817. A kilonova is an extremely powerful explosion that not only releases a large amount energy, but may also produce important elements like gold, platinum, and uranium that other stellar explosions do not.

    It is possible that a few mergers like the ones seen in GW170817 and GRB 150101B had been detected as short GRBs before but had not been identified with other telescopes. Without detections at longer wavelengths like X-rays or optical light, GRB positions are not accurate enough to determine what galaxy they are located in.

    In the case of GRB 150101B, astronomers thought at first that the counterpart was an X-ray source detected by Swift in the center of the galaxy, likely from material falling into a supermassive black hole. However, follow-up observations with Chandra detected the true counterpart away from the center of the host galaxy.

    The other important difference between GW170817 and GRB 150101B is that without gravitational wave detection, the team does not know the masses of the two objects that merged. It is possible that the merger was between a black hole and a neutron star, rather than two neutron stars.

    “We need more cases like GW170817 that combine gravitational wave and electromagnetic data to find an example between a neutron star and black hole. Such a detection would be the first of its kind,” said co-author Hendrik Van Eerten of the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “Our results are encouraging for finding more mergers and making such a detection.”

    A paper describing these results appears in the journal Nature Communications today.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

     
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