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  • richardmitnick 2:51 pm on February 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , BurstCube, Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , , ,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Technology to Help Locate Electromagnetic Counterparts of Gravitational Waves” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 6, 2018
    By Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Principal Investigator Jeremy Perkins and his co-investigator, Georgia de Nolfo, recently won funding to build a new CubeSat mission, called BurstCube. Respectively, Perkins and de Nolfo hold a crystal, or scintillator, and silicon photomultiplier array technology that will be used to detect and localize gamma-ray bursts for gravitational-wave science. The photomultiplier array shown here specifically was developed for another CubeSat mission called TRYAD, which will investigate gamma-ray bursts in high-altitude lightning clouds.
    Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    A compact detector technology applicable to all types of cross-disciplinary scientific investigations has found a home on a new CubeSat mission designed to find the electromagnetic counterparts of events that generate gravitational waves.

    NASA scientist Georgia de Nolfo and her collaborator, astrophysicist Jeremy Perkins, recently received funding from the agency’s Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program to develop a CubeSat mission called BurstCube. This mission, which will carry the compact sensor technology that de Nolfo developed, will detect and localize gamma-ray bursts caused by the collapse of massive stars and mergers of orbiting neutron stars. It also will detect solar flares and other high-energy transients once it’s deployed into low-Earth orbit in the early 2020s.

    The cataclysmic deaths of massive stars and mergers of neutron stars are of special interest to scientists because they produce gravitational waves — literally, ripples in the fabric of space-time that radiate out in all directions, much like what happens when a stone is thrown into a pond.

    Since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, confirmed their existence a couple years ago, LIGO and the European Virgo detectors have detected other events, including the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars announced in October 2017.

    Less than two seconds after LIGO detected the waves washing over Earth’s space-time, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a weak burst of high-energy light — the first burst to be unambiguously connected to a gravitational-wave source.

    These detections have opened a new window on the universe, giving scientists a more complete view of these events that complements knowledge obtained through traditional observational techniques, which rely on detecting electromagnetic radiation — light — in all its forms.

    Complementary Capability

    Perkins and de Nolfo, both scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, see BurstCube as a companion to Fermi in this search for gravitational-wave sources. Though not as capable as the much larger Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, or GBM, on Fermi, BurstCube will increase coverage of the sky. Fermi-GBM observes the entire sky not blocked by the Earth. “But what happens if an event occurs and Fermi is on the other side of Earth, which is blocking its view,” Perkins said. “Fermi won’t see the burst.”

    BurstCube, which is expected to launch around the time additional ground-based LIGO-type observatories begin operations, will assist in detecting these fleeting, hard-to-capture high-energy photons and help determine where they originated. In addition to quickly reporting their locations to the ground so that other telescopes can find the event in other wavelengths and home in on its host galaxy, BurstCube’s other job is to study the sources themselves.

    Miniaturized Technology

    BurstCube will use the same detector technology as Fermi’s GBM; however, with important differences.

    Under the concept de Nolfo has advanced through Goddard’s Internal Research and Development program funding, the team will position four blocks of cesium-iodide crystals, operating as scintillators, in different orientations within the spacecraft. When an incoming gamma ray strikes one of the crystals, it will absorb the energy and luminesce, converting that energy into optical light.

    Four arrays of silicon photomultipliers and their associated read-out devices each sit behind the four crystals. The photomultipliers convert the light into an electrical pulse and then amplify this signal by creating an avalanche of electrons. This multiplying effect makes the detector far more sensitive to this faint and fleeting gamma rays.

    Unlike the photomultipliers on Fermi’s GBM, which are bulky and resemble old-fashioned television tubes, de Nolfo’s devices are made of silicon, a semiconductor material. “Compared with more conventional photomultiplier tubes, silicon photomultipliers significantly reduce mass, volume, power and cost,” Perkins said. “The combination of the crystals and new readout devices makes it possible to consider a compact, low-power instrument that is readily deployable on a CubeSat platform.”

    In another success for Goddard technology, the BurstCube team also has baselined the Dellingr 6U CubeSat bus that a small team of center scientists and engineers developed to show that CubeSat platforms could be more reliable and capable of gathering highly robust scientific data.

    “This is high-demand technology,” de Nolfo said. “There are applications everywhere.”

    For other Goddard technology news, go to https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/winter_2018_final_lowrez.pdf

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 10:57 am on January 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , Gravitational wave source GW170817, , NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event,   

    From Chandra: “NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event” 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    NASA Chandra

    October 16, 2017 [Just appeared in social media.]

    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/Northwestern U./W. Fong & R. Margutti et al. & NASA/GSFC/E. Troja et al.; Optical:NASA/STScI

    Astronomers have used Chandra to make the first X-ray detection of a gravitational wave source.

    This is the first evidence that the aftermath of gravitational wave events can also emit X-rays.

    The data indicate this event was the merger of two neutron stars that produced a jet pointing away from Earth.

    Chandra provides the missing observational link between short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and gravitational waves from neutron star mergers.

    Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make the first X-ray detection of a gravitational wave source. Chandra was one of multiple observatories to detect the aftermath of this gravitational wave event, the first to produce an electromagnetic signal of any type. This discovery represents the beginning of a new era in astrophysics.

    The gravitational wave source, GW170817, was detected with the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, at 8:41am EDT on Thursday August 17, 2017.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

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

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    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)

    Two seconds later NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) detected a weak pulse of gamma-rays.

    NASA/Fermi LAT

    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    Later that morning, LIGO scientists announced that GW170817 had the characteristics of a merger of two neutron stars.

    During the evening of August 17, multiple teams of astronomers using ground-based telescopes reported a detection of a new source of optical and infrared light in the galaxy NGC 4993, a galaxy located about 130 million light years from Earth. The position of the new optical and infrared source agreed with the position of the Fermi and the gravitational wave sources. The latter was refined by combining information from LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo.

    Over the following two weeks, Chandra observed NGC 4993 and the source GW170817 four separate times. In the first observation on August 19th (Principal Investigator: Wen-fai Fong from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois), no X-rays were detected at the location of GW170817. This observation was obtained remarkably quickly, only 2.3 days after the gravitational source was detected.

    On August 26, Chandra observed GW170817 again and this time, X-rays were seen for the first time (PI: Eleonora Troja from Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and the University of Maryland, College Park). This new X-ray source was located at the exact position of the optical and infrared source.

    “This Chandra detection is very important because it is the first evidence that sources of gravitational waves are also sources of X-ray emission,” said Troja. “This detection is teaching us a great deal of information about the collision and its remnant. It helps to give us an important confirmation that gamma-ray bursts are beamed into narrow jets.”

    The accompanying graphic shows both the Chandra non-detection, or upper limit of X-rays from GW170817 on August 19th, and the subsequent detection on August 26th, in the two sides of the inset box. The main panel of the graphic is the Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 4993, which includes data taken on August 22nd. The variable optical source corresponding to GW170817 is located in the center of the circle in the Hubble image.

    Chandra observed GW170817 again on September 1st (PI Eleonora Troja) and September 2nd (PI: Daryl Haggard from McGill University in Montreal, Canada), when the source appeared to have roughly the same level of X-ray brightness as the August 26 observation.

    The properties of the source’s X-ray brightness with time matches that predicted by theoretical models of a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). During such an event, a burst of X-rays and gamma rays is generated by a narrow jet, or beam, of high-energy particles produced by the merger of two neutron stars. The initial non-detection by Chandra followed by the detections show that the X-ray emission from GW170817 is consistent with the afterglow from a GRB viewed “off-axis,” that is, with the jet not pointing directly towards the Earth. This is the first time astronomers have ever detected an off-axis short GRB.

    “After some thought, we realized that the initial non-detection by Chandra perfectly matches with what we expect,” said Fong. “The fact that we did not see anything at first gives us a very good handle on the orientation and geometry of the system.”

    Illustration Credit: NASA/CXC/K.DiVona

    The researchers think that initially the jet was narrow, with Chandra viewing it from the side. However, as time passed the material in the jet slowed down and widened as it slammed into surrounding material, causing the X-ray emission to rise as the jet came into direct view. The Chandra data allow researchers to estimate the angle between the jet and our line of sight. The three different Chandra observing teams each estimate angles between 20 and 60 degrees. Future observations may help refine these estimates.

    The detection of this off-axis short GRB helps explain the weakness of the gamma-ray signal detected with Fermi GBM for a burst that is so close by. Because our telescopes are not looking straight down the barrel of the jet as they have for other short GRBs, the gamma-ray signal is much fainter.

    The optical and infrared light is likely caused by the radioactive glow when heavy elements such as gold and platinum are produced in the material ejected by the neutron star merger. This glow had been predicted to occur after neutron stars merged.

    By detecting an off-axis short GRB at the location of the radioactive glow, the Chandra observations provide the missing observational link between short GRBs and gravitational waves from neutron star mergers.

    This is the first time astronomers have all of the necessary pieces of information of neutron stars merging — from the production of gravitational waves followed by signals in gamma rays, X-rays, optical and infrared light, that all agree with predictions for a short GRB viewed off-axis.

    “This is a big deal because it’s an entirely new level of knowledge,” said Haggard. “This discovery allows us to link this gravitational wave source up to all the rest of astrophysics, stars, galaxies, explosions, growing massive black holes, and of course neutron star mergers.”

    Papers describing these results have been accepted for publication in Nature (Troja et al.), and The Astrophysical Journal Letters (Haggard et al. and Margutti et al.). Raffaella Margutti is a collaborator of Fong’s, also from Northwestern.

    See the full article here .

    If you have the time, please visit the very best produced work, from UCSC, on this detection:

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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.

  • richardmitnick 11:53 am on January 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , How Does Spinning Affect The Shape Of Pulsars?,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “How Does Spinning Affect The Shape Of Pulsars?” 

    From Ethan Siegel

    Jan 13, 2018

    A neutron star is one of the densest collections of matter in the Universe, but there is an upper limit to their mass. Exceed it, and the neutron star will further collapse to form a black hole. Image credit: ESO / Luis Calcada.

    They’re the fastest rotators of all. So how distorted are they?

    There are very few objects in the Universe that stand still; almost everything we know of rotates in some way. Every moon, planet, and star we know of spins on its own axis, meaning that there’s no such thing as a truly perfect sphere in our physical reality. As an object in hydrostatic equilibrium spins, it bulges at the equator while compressing at the poles. Our own Earth is an additional 26 miles (42 km) longer along its equatorial axis than its polar axis due to its once-a-day spin, and there are many things that spin more quickly. What about the objects that spin the fastest? That’s what our Patreon supporter Jason McCampbell wants to know:

    [S]ome pulsars have incredible spin rates. How much does this distort the object, and does it shed material this way or is gravity still able to bind all of the material to the object?

    There’s a limit to how quickly anything can spin, and while pulsars are no exception, some of them are truly exceptional.

    The Vela pulsar, like all pulsars, is an example of a neutron star corpse. The gas and matter surrounding it is quite common, and is capable of providing fuel for the pulsing behavior of these neutron stars. Image credit: NASA/CXC/PSU/G.Pavlov et al.

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    Pulsars, or rotating neutron stars, have some of the most incredible properties of any object in the Universe. Formed in the aftermath of a supernova, where the core collapses down to a solid ball of neutrons exceeding the mass of the Sun but just a few kilometers in diameter, neutron stars are the densest known form of matter of all. Although they’re called “neutron stars,” they’re only about 90% neutrons, so when they rotate, the charged particles composing them move rapidly, generating a large magnetic field. When surrounding particles enter this field, they get accelerated, creating a jet of radiation emanating from the neutron star’s poles. And when one of these poles points at us, we see the “pulse” of the pulsar.

    A pulsar, made out of neutrons, has an outer shell of protons and electrons, which create an extremely strong magnetic field trillions of times that of our Sun’s at the surface. Note that the spin axis and the magnetic axis are somewhat misaligned. Image credit: Mysid of Wikimedia Commons/Roy Smits.

    Most of the neutron stars out there don’t appear as pulsars to us, since most of them aren’t coincidentally aligned with our line-of-sight. It may be the case that all neutron stars are pulsars, but we only see a small fraction of them actually pulsing. Nevertheless, there exists a huge variety of rotational periods found in spinning neutron stars that are observable.

    This image of the Crab Nebula’s core, a young, massive star that’s recently died in a spectacular supernova explosion, exhibits these characteristic ripples due to the presence of a pulsing, rapidly rotating neutron star: a pulsar. At just 1,000 years old, this young pulsar, which spins 30 times per second, is typical of ordinary pulsars. Image credit: NASA / ESA.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Ordinary pulsars, which includes the overwhelming majority of young pulsars, take anywhere from a few hundredths of a second to a few seconds to make a complete rotation, while older, faster, “millisecond” pulsars spin much faster. The fastest known pulsar rotates 766 times per second, while the slowest one ever discovered, at the center of the 2,000 year old supernova remnant RCW 103, takes an incredible 6.7 hours to make a complete rotation about its axis.

    The very slowly-rotating neutron star at the core of the supernova remnant RCW 103 is also a magnetar. In 2016, new data from a variety of satellites confirmed this as the slowest-rotating neutron star ever found. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Amsterdam/N.Rea et al; Optical: DSS.

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot NM, USA, Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    Apache Point Observatory, Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA. n the Sacramento Mountains in Sunspot, New Mexico, Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    A couple of years ago, there was a false story going around that a slowly-rotating star was now the most spherical object known to humanity. Unlikely! While the Sun is very close to a perfect sphere, just 10 km longer in its equatorial plane than the polar direction (or just 0.0007% away from a perfect sphere), that newly-measured star, KIC 11145123, is more than twice the size of the Sun but has a difference of just 3 km between the equator and the poles.

    The slowest-rotating star we know of, Kepler/KIC 1145123, differs in its polar and equatorial diameters by just 0.0002%. But neutron stars can be much, much flatter. Image credit: Laurent Gizon et al/Mark A Garlick.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    While a 0.0002% departure from perfect sphericity is pretty good, the slowest-rotating neutron star, known as 1E 1613, has them all beat. If it’s about 20 kilometers in diameter, the difference between the equatorial and the polar radii is approximately the radius of a single proton: a less-than-one-trillionth of 1% flattening. That is, if we can be certain that it’s the rotational dynamics of the neutron star are what dictate its shape.

    A neutron star is very small and low in overall luminosity, but it’s very hot, and takes a long time to cool down. If your eyes were good enough, you’d see it shine for millions of times the present age of the Universe. Image credit: ESO/L. Calçada.

    Neutron stars have incredibly strong magnetic fields, with normal neutron stars coming in at approximately 100 billion Gauss and magnetars, the most powerful ones, at somewhere between 100 trillion and 1 quadrillion Gauss. (For comparison, the Earth’s magnetic field is about 0.6 Gauss.) While rotation works to flatten a neutron star into a shape known as an oblate spheroid, the magnetic fields ought to have the opposite effect, lengthening the neutron star along the rotating axis into a football-like shape known as a prolate spheroid.

    An oblate (L) and prolate (R) spheroid, which are generically flattened or elongated shapes that spheres can become depending on the forces at play on them. Image credit: Ag2gaeh / Wikimedia Commons.

    Owing to gravitational wave constraints, we are certain that neutron stars are deformed by less than 10–100 centimeters from their rotationally-caused shape, meaning that they are perfectly spherical to within approximately 0.0001%. But the real deformations should be a lot smaller. The fastest neutron star rotates with a frequency of 766 Hz, or a period of just 0.0013 seconds.

    While there are many ways to attempt to calculate the flattening for even the fastest neutron star, with no agreed-upon equation, even this incredible rate, where the equatorial surface moves at about 16% the speed of light, would result in a flattening of only 0.0000001%, give or take an order of magnitude or two. And this is nowhere close to escape velocity; everything on the surface of the neutron star is there to stay.

    In the final moments of merging, two neutron stars don’t merely emit gravitational waves, but a catastrophic explosion that echoes across the electromagnetic spectrum and a slew of heavy elements towards the very high end of the periodic table. Image credit: University of Warwick / Mark Garlick.

    When two neutron stars merged, however, that may have provided the most extreme example of a rotating neutron star (post-merger) that we’ve ever encountered. Under our standard theories, these neutron stars ought to have collapsed into a black hole past a certain mass: approximately 2.5 times the mass of the Sun. But if these neutron stars rotate rapidly, they can remain in a neutron star state for some time, until enough energy is radiated away via gravitational waves to reach that critical instability. This can increase the mass of an allowable neutron star, at least, temporarily, by up to an additional 10–20%.

    When we observed the neutron star-neutron star merger and the gravitational waves from it, this is exactly what we believe happened.

    So, post-merger, what was the rotation rate of the neutron star? How distorted was its shape? And what types of gravitational waves do post-merger neutron stars emit in general?

    The way we’ll arrive at the answer involves a combination of examining more events in a variety of mass ranges: below a combined mass of 2.5 solar masses (where you should get a stable neutron star), between 2.5 and 3 solar masses (like the event we saw, where you get a temporary neutron star that becomes a black hole), and above 3 solar masses (where you go directly to a black hole), and measuring the light signals. We’ll also learn more by catching the inspiral phase faster, and being able to point towards the anticipated source in advance of the merger. As LIGO/Virgo and other gravitational wave detectors both come online and get more sensitive, we’ll get better and better at 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-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    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)

    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 3:59 pm on January 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , ROC West   

    From FNAL- “Caught on camera: Dark Energy Survey’s independent discovery from ROC West” 

    FNAL II photo

    FNAL Art Image
    FNAL Art Image by Angela Gonzales

    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    January 12, 2018
    Hannah Ward

    These two photos show two moments in time surrounding the merging of two neutron stars. In the left image, taken about one day after the merger, the optical afterglow of the resulting explosion is visible as a small star at roughly the 11 o’clock position on the outskirts of the galaxy NGC 4993. In the right image, taken about two weeks later, the optical afterglow has completed faded away. Images: Dark Energy Survey

    At this moment, it’s hard to imagine being one of the first people to see and photograph anything in our universe, but that’s what many members of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) strive to do.

    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 recent observation of the neutron star collision and merger on Aug. 17 was one such rare, momentous event, and one of the places it was first observed was right here in Fermilab’s Remote Operations Center-West (ROC West) by Fermilab scientists Douglas Tucker and Sahar Allam.

    Images from ROC West

    The DES gravitational-wave follow-up team, led by Brandeis University scientist Marcelle Soares-Santos, formerly at Fermilab, had only a few hours to prepare for the event, which was only visible for approximately an hour-and-a-half the night of the collision. Researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) had detected the gravitational waves signaling the event the morning of Aug. 17 and notified other astronomy groups, including Fermilab’s DES team.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

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

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    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 was essential that the Fermilab team had everything in place for that critical 90 minutes. Each of the astronomy groups analyzed their photos, independently discovered the neutron star merger and confirmed the discovery within minutes of one another. Using photos from the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), DES was the second to independently discover the optical afterglow of the merger.

    The distance from Fermilab to Chile, where the DECam is located, along with the unscheduled nature of the gravitational-wave follow-ups, made it essential to develop ROC West as a remote operations location for DES. Computing added the necessary tools to remotely access and control the DECam from Fermilab.

    “Having ROC West as a remote DES station is a great accomplishment,” Allam said. “It has all the facilities and resources you need to connect to the work without struggling with laptops. Many smaller projects find it much more efficient to observe remotely.”

    Setting up the DES resources in ROC West required computing experts with myriad specialties. The Core Computing Division’s audio/video teleconferencing team installed a Polycom videoconferencing system; the Scientific Linux and Architecture Management Group set up Linux workstations; network architect Gregory Stonehocker added the necessary networking; scientist Liz Buckley-Geer was instrumental in setting up the consoles; and many others within the Core Computing, Neutrino, Particle Physics and Scientific Computing divisions contributed as well. Without these remote capabilities, Fermilab would not have been able to reach DECam in Chile fast enough to view such unscheduled transient events like this neutron star merger. Instead, the DECam would have to be staffed continuously by the DES gravitational-wave follow-up team — an expensive proposition for only a few hours of observation.

    Rather than worrying about logistics and staffing, the DES team used the time between the LIGO notification and the observation window to convert the broad sky area LIGO/Virgo reported into coordinates on the sky for the DECam to image in its search for the explosion. Capturing photos required more than a simple click of camera button. It was a feat of foresight, teamwork and experience. Preparation started months prior, in the spring of 2017. Fermilab scientist Jim Annis prepared algorithms well in advance. Without a good set of coordinates covering the full target area, DECam would be off, and, despite the camera’s large field of view, DES would miss the entire event. Annis also worked on the timing of the DECam observation to ensure the merger was observed at the ideal time based on the sun and weather conditions.

    Once the sun set in Chile that fateful night, Tucker and Allam logged in to the remote console that allowed them to control DECam and start the observation software. The images were processed in parallel on FermiGrid and the Open Science Grid. The high-throughput processing engineered by scientific computing specialist Ken Herner ensured the large, high-resolution photos were quickly processed and ready for analysis so the DES team could quickly discover the neutron star merger.

    “It was very exciting,” Tucker said. “We were honored to be among the first to see something like this happen. We are looking forward to analyzing the data and learning more.”

    See the full article here .

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    FNAL Icon

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. Fermilab is America’s premier laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Thousands of scientists from universities and laboratories around the world
    collaborate at Fermilab on experiments at the frontiers of discovery.

  • richardmitnick 1:41 pm on December 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , Stefano Covino is an astronomer with the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Stephen Smartt is Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, The makings of the ground-breaking gravitational waves discovery,   

    From ESOblog: “The makings of the ground-breaking gravitational waves discovery” 20 October 2017 It is worth your time 

    ESO 50 Large


    20 October 2017 [Missed this one first time around, just caught up with it. It is worth your time.]


    Have you heard the game-changing news? For the first time ever, astronomers have observed the visible counterpart of a gravitational wave source. Gravitational waves were detected passing by Earth on 17 August, and telescopes around the world leapt into action to locate their source — spearheaded by ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile. Together, this global collaborative effort observed both gravitational waves and light from the same event, indicating that the source was the merger of two neutron stars. The drop-of-a-hat observing campaign involved dozens of scientists across the globe, and we asked two of them what it was really like to experience such a historic discovery first-hand. Here, we talk to Stephen Smartt (Queen’s University Belfast, UK) and Stefano Covino (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Italy).

    Q: It all began on 17 August 2017. Tell us about the moment you received that fateful notification. Where were you? What were you doing?

    Stefano Covino (SC): The middle of August is the holiday period in Italy, so on 17 August I was relaxing at my place with my young daughters: Sofia (5) and Aurora (almost 3). My wife Maddalena, a medical doctor, was busy at a nearby hospital. I was enjoying spending time with my girls when my smartphone began to ring obsessively. When I unlocked it I found a series of messages, some automatic, some with comments from my colleagues at the GRAWITA collaboration, in particular from Marica Branchesi, our LIGO–Virgo expert — a new gravitational wave event had been reported!

    GW170817 Press Release
    LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars
    Discovery marks first cosmic event observed in both gravitational waves and light.

    Stephen Smartt (SS): I’d just sat down at my computer after a lunchtime run, feeling great, when the alert flashed up at 14:22. Suddenly I felt even better because LIGO and Virgo had just reported a gravitational wave signature — probably caused by neutron star binary merger, which we’d never seen before. When I learned that Fermi and INTEGRAL had reported a gamma ray detection within two seconds of the LIGO Hanford timing, it was truly a wow! moment — this is what we’d been waiting for.

    NASA/Fermi Telescope


    Q: Why was this such an exciting moment?

    SC: Well we’d actually been alerted to another event just three days before, but the preliminary analysis of this new event indicated that it was the result of a neutron star merger. This was partly unexpected but intensely desired, because this kind of event is predicted to have a visible counterpart, so we can observe the aftermath with telescopes all over the world. In an instant, we had the chance to link gravitational waves and electromagnetic astronomy — something that had never been achieved before. Wow!

    SS: Like Stefano said, we’ve seen several of these kinds of alerts before. Sometimes they come at inconvenient times — like back in 2015, I was just about to turn in on Boxing Day when the highly-significant second black hole merger event was found by LIGO and it was an all-night scramble to marshal the Hawaiian Pan-STARRS and ATLAS telescopes for the coming darkness, postponing my holiday.

    Pann-STARS telescope, U Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, 4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    ATLAS telescope, First Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert system (ATLAS) fully operational 8/15/15 Haleakala , Hawaii, USA, Altitude 4,205 m (13,796 ft)

    But this time, it looked like the gravitational waves were produced by the merging of two neutron stars, which was predicted to be accompanied by a bright burst of electromagnetic radiation — and if we could find the source, it would actually be the first identification of a gravitational wave source. The race was on!

    This artist’s impression video shows how two tiny but very dense neutron stars merge and explode as a kilonova. Such a very rare event is expected to produce both gravitational waves and a short gamma-ray burst.These objects are the main source of very heavy chemical elements, such as gold and platinum in the Universe
    Credit: ESO/L. Calçada. Music: Johan B. Monell (www.johanmonell.com)

    Q: So the next step was to find the source — how did you know where to look in the sky?

    SC: That’s the tricky part. Just because we were incredibly excited didn’t mean the way forward was easy. Gravitational wave detectors are wonderful pieces of technology, but they’re currently only able to tell us the region of sky where the event was measured, not a specific location. This time, however, we got lucky. The Fermi and the INTEGRAL high-energy satellites detected a signal a couple of seconds after the gravitational wave event — an amazing feat by itself! And by combining the information, we managed to narrow the source down to a reasonably small area of the sky.

    SS: Actually, the very first map of the sky from LIGO–Virgo showing us the source’s direction was simply enormous. It covered a region of about half the whole sky, which didn’t narrow down our search at all! Maybe this is just chance coincidence, I thought. We’ve seen them before. But it turns out the huge area was just due to a noise glitch, and by midnight (GMT) on that same day, LIGO–Virgo had heroically reanalysed all the data and come up with a new, smaller region in the south, low in the sky at dusk.

    This image shows areas of the Milky Way where previous cosmological events have been localised by LIGO, starting with gravitational waves detected in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104). More recently with the addition of VIRGO the LIGO–Virgo network was able to more accurately localise gravitational-wave signals (GW170814, GW170817). The “yellow banana” is the only gravitational wave source in this image to have been produced by merging neutron stars, the others all being caused by merging black holes. Credit: LIGO/Virgo/NASA/Leo Singer/Axel Mellinger

    Q: But how did you narrow it down to find the source itself?

    SS: There are a couple of ways we could have done this. Firstly, we could have used a wide-field telescope to scan the region (which is about the size of 100 full Moons) and spot what new objects had appeared. Secondly — and this is the option that many telescopes went with — we could plausibly guess that the object is most likely located where most of the other stars are, and so many teams decided to take a focused look at the 10 or 100 biggest galaxies in the region. Handily, LIGO–Virgo also estimated how far away the event was (about 130 million light-years) which gave everyone a three-dimensional space to search in. Picking the biggest galaxies from that actually wasn’t too hard.

    Q: Who made the initial observations? Was there a call to action for astronomers around the world?

    SS: Pretty much! The position of the source, low in the sky, was not great for observatories in places like Hawaii but was well-placed for Chile. So all of a sudden, Chile became the best astronomical site in the world to search for the electromagnetic counterpart of the event. Of course, the big, wide-field telescopes DECam and VISTA were immediately scheduled, but even small telescopes (40-cm to 1-m) were enlisted to conduct interesting searches!

    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

    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    SC: With a few colleagues from the INAF–Brera Astronomical Observatory — Sergio Campana, Paolo D’Avanzo and Andrea Melandri — I planned a set of observations with the REM telescope, which is small, rapidly-pointing INAF telescope located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory.

    The Rapid Eye Mount (REM) telescope is a 60 cm rapid-reaction automatic telescope at La Silla, and since October 2002 it has been operated by the REM team for the INAF (Italian National Institute for Astrophysics),

    We, along with many other colleagues around the world, targeted some of the brightest galaxies at a compatible distance in the sky area of interest. Still, it was a very difficult search because the area was observable only for a limited amount of time after sunset.

    Q: And what did you find that first night of observing?

    SS: Within the first hour of observing in the Chilean dusk, seven telescopes spotted the same source of light. It was first announced as the possible counterpart by Ryan Foley’s University of Santa Cruz team using the little Swope 1-m telescope, at Las Campana, a few tens of kilometres from La Silla.

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

    The new source was in the galaxy NGC 4993, an otherwise fairly normal and unremarkable galaxy at the same distance that was estimated by LIGO–Virgo. Six other teams also reported the same detection within those first few hours, having guessed that this galaxy had a good chance of hosting the object.

    SC: The REM telescope was scheduled to observe NGC 4993 20 minutes later, and indeed our observations also showed this bright, previously-uncatalogued source. The Swift satellite also observed it, quite bright in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    Is it the counterpart we’re looking for? I wondered. Is it actually related to the gravitational waves event? It was still difficult to say; finding new sources is not very unusual. Only direct observations could reveal the nature of this source. But the visibility period of the field was over. From Chile, we had to try again the next night.

    This image from the VIMOS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile shows the galaxy NGC 4993, about 130 million light-years from Earth. To the top-left of the galaxy is a tiny pinpoint of light, never seen before in this galaxy, which appeared suddenly and unexpectedly. It is, we now know, the light from the first ever observed kilonova, produced by two merging neutron stars Credit: ESO


    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    Q: Did other telescopes around the globe pick up where you left off?

    SS: They sure did. As night marched west across the globe, the source was visible but very low in the sky for the next observatories able to spot it — in Hawaii. Six hours later, Subaru and Pan-STARRS announced they had picked up the source.

    NAOJ/Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    Pann-STARS telescope, U Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, 4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    I’ve been involved in Pan-STARRS for a long time and it’s a great facility to do this type of search. When Ken Chambers (Pan-STARRS Director) heard the news about the detection, he decided to focus on getting colours for the object in the 15 minutes or so it was visible.

    We followed it dutifully over the next few nights all around the world. Ken and his expert observing team in Hawaii drove Pan-STARRS to its elevation limit, pointing “down in the dirt” at twilight to spot the source low on the horizon. With our reliable Pan-STARRS data analysis pipeline, we could carefully monitor whether the object changed its brightness. The staggered observations from Hawaii, then Australia and South Africa and back to Chile again, showed us the object was fading fast. We wondered whether it could still be a variable star from our own galaxy, getting in the way of our observations, or perhaps even a distant supernova. But if we ruled out those two possibilities, the object was a real contender for the source of the gravitational waves. It was in the same area of the sky, at the same distance as LIGO–Virgo estimated… Everyone was thinking the same thing — is this actually it?

    Q: So these observations continued over many days — what were they like?

    SC: The day after the discovery of the source, we decided to investigate its nature with the best resources we had. And so the intensive campaign began, stretching over 10 days following the initial report. It was frankly impressive. The days were filled with frenetic and exciting activity. My team was remotely watching different units of ESO’s Very Large Telescope pointing at the same targets and simultaneously securing polarimetry, spectroscopy and photometry. It was truly a fusion of technology and passion at their best. And day by day, the evidence became more convincing that we were witnessing an astrophysical object that had been previously theorised, but never observed before: the long-sought connection between gravitational waves and electromagnetic astrophysics.

    SS: Observations took place over the next 10 days all around the world. For my team, we very luckily had five nights of the extended PESSTO survey coming up on ESO’s New Technology Telescope in Chile.

    ESO/NTT at Cerro La Silla, Chile, at an altitude of 2400 metres

    A rapid telecon led to plans for the coming nights with our two observers Joe Lyman and David Homan. Janet Chen triggered the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope to observe NGC 4993 every night.

    MPG/ESO 2.2 meter telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

    We needed a spectrum — the first one came from Magellan, taken within the first night by Maria Drout, and was just blue and featureless.

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

    We often see transients like this, so it was certainly unusual but not conclusive. As night came round again 24 hours later, we got that first conclusive spectrum. I waited at home, in contact with Joe and David, and they sent through the spectrum as soon as the exposure finished. As the first spectrum plot popped up on my screen, at 02:14 am on 19 August, I was thinking this really could be decisive.

    It was most definitely not a supernova, not a variable star, and not anything I’ve ever looked at before. PESSTO has classified over 1000 astronomical transients and none of them look like this. I sent the description around to PESSTO and the global network of observers. There was no hydrogen, helium, oxygen, calcium, silicon, or carbon in the spectrum. Others started to get their spectra from the optical to infrared too; we triggered ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and the reports all lined up. My former student Matt Nichol, now at Harvard, saw the same thing as me from his spectrum at another Chilean telescope on the same night. At this point, about 36 hours after the gravitational wave discovery, everybody really thought this was it: the electromagnetic counterpart.

    Q: Tell us: why this is such an important and exciting result?

    SS: Honestly, it’s a triumph for a very talented group of theoretical astrophysicists. Over the last 20 years, they had predicted that neutron star mergers would produce electromagnetic signals just like what we were seeing: blue, turning red, fading fast. The light is powered by heavy radioactive elements that were created in the first few moments of the merger. The name “kilonova” was coined for this phenomenon in 2010 by Brian Metzger — because it’s 1000 times brighter than a nova. It’s quite amazing that these physical models predated the discovery by years, but ended up being very similar to the data that we actually saw!

    This animation is based on a series of spectra of the kilonova in NGC 4993 observed by the X-shooter instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
    They cover a period of 12 days after the initial explosion on 17 August 2017. The kilonova is very blue initially but then brightens in the red and fades
    Credit: ESO/E. Pian et al./S. Smartt & ePESSTO/L. Calçada

    ESO X-shooter on VLT at Cerro Paranal, Chile

    Q: After the team makes their observations, what’s next in the scientific process?

    SS: In short: you write papers and get them published! Knowing how groundbreaking this was — knowing that this was probably the optical counterpart of merging neutron stars and the first identification of a gravitational wave source — I realised we had to act fast to analyse our observations thoroughly and get our results out there. There’s a lot of intellectual horsepower in the PESSTO, Pan-STARRS, and ATLAS teams, and I knew if I could harness that talent rapidly, then we could quickly work out what was going on. The team was formed and off we went — and you can read the result in the press releases and in our Nature paper. Superb work by our theory team of Anders Jerkstrand, Michael Coughlin, Stuart Sim and Luke Shingles showed that this is indeed a kilonova, associated with merging neutron stars!

    SC: I began to work intensively on our team’s paper along with Klaas Wiersema (now at the University of Warwick in the UK), who is co-responsible for the polarisation programme. It’s always a special period when you finally have your data, notes and plots and then try to organise everything in a coherent way. It was also a period of intense, rapid-fire interaction with the journal editors, who made exceptional efforts to allow us to publish at the right time at the end of the embargo period.

    Q: It must have been an incredibly busy and challenging period.

    SC: It really was! I didn’t sleep a whole night for the first couple of weeks after the event, but we were so excited that we didn’t really feel tired.

    SS: As it happens, as all this science frenzy was going on, I was in the middle of a training program for the Dublin Marathon. I’d been fortunate to be chosen by Irish Olympic Athlete Paul Pollock to be part of his first coaching project, Dream Run Dublin. The peak training period ran from mid-August to early September, so the day after the spectrum came through, I ran 20 miles faster than I’ve ever run before. Running keeps my head clear. In the middle of writing and analysing and checking all data, sometimes you can hit a wall. I find that getting outside and going for a run can lift this mental block. Could I keep this going, writing the paper with a deadline six weeks away (I could see the late nights coming!) and also keep up with the coaching program, with the goal of breaking 3 hours for the marathon? “Of course you can — go for it,” my wife Sarah said. “Easy,” my coach said — and he was right. The training is now over and in two weeks, I’ll be waiting at the starting line of the Dublin Marathon. 2:59:59 will mean success; 3:00:01 will mean failure. Let’s wait and see. In any case, the kilonova paper is finished and published, and the marathon of a new era of astronomy is underway!

    Q: And finally: How did it really feel to be part of such an extraordinary and landmark event?

    SS: I’ll remember these eight weeks for a long time. I’m very fortunate to work with a great group of scientists and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to lead the team and be part of this truly historic event.

    SC: It was a privilege to be on the frontline of these epochal events. Of course, we all like to see our work recognised and feel that we’ve contributed to our field of research, but this time was different. You had the precise feeling that something historic was happening, and I’m proud to have been a small part of this big event. Most highly-talented scientists have never had this privilege. These past two months, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the large number of colleagues who worked so hard, day and night. I know a good fraction of them personally, and a few I count as friends. We began more or less together when we were much younger, targeting gamma-ray burst afterglows, and almost twenty years later we’re still here pointing “our” telescopes at a new category of astrophysical sources. We have been a lucky generation of astronomers!


    Press release: ESO Telescopes Observe First Light from Gravitational Wave Source
    Science Paper: The electromagnetic counterpart to a gravitational wave source unveils a kilonova, by S. J. Smartt et al. in Nature
    Science Paper: The unpolarized macronova associated with the gravitational wave event GW170817, by S. Covino et al. in Nature Astronomy
    LIGO press release


    Stephen Smartt and Stefano Covino

    Stefano Covino is an astronomer with the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), currently working at Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. His primary research interests are gamma lightning, gamma ray bursts and high energy astrophysics. He has worked on robotics for telescopes and optical instruments as well as in many foreign institutions.

    Stephen Smartt is Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast. His work focuses on superluminous supernovae and the stars that produce them. He is head of the Pan-STARRS Survey for Transients which leads the world’s supernova discoveries, and he is PI and Survey Director of PESSTO, the Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey of Transient Objects.

    See the full article here .

    See also https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/from-ucsc-neutron-stars-gravitational-waves-and-all-the-gold-in-the-universe/ for the full story from UCSC.

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    ESO/Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO Vista Telescope
    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO/NTT at Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres.

    ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m.

    APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert.

    Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

  • richardmitnick 12:16 pm on December 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , From UCSC "All the gold in the universe", , Waves of joy: why astronomers are ecstatic about colliding neutron stars   

    From COSMOS: “Waves of joy: why astronomers are ecstatic about colliding neutron stars” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    22 December 2017
    Lauren Fuge

    An artist’s impression of colliding neutron stars. MARK GARLICK/UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK.

    Every few years, a discovery is announced that makes scientists so excited they could explode – consider the rockstar coverage that greeted the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, or the triumphant global cheer when Curiosity landed safely on Mars in the same year.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    On 16 October 2017 the announcement of another science spectacle swept the world: for the first time, astronomers had been treated to the cosmic fireworks of colliding neutron stars. They could both listen – thanks to gravitational waves – and watch – thanks to electromagnetic waves. Astronomers the world over were catapulted into a frenzy.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

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

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    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)

    Here are five reasons why.

    1. Their life’s work was just validated.

    The reality of science – and especially physics and astronomy – is that, sometimes, scientists end up studying phenomena that they’re not 100% sure actually exist. For some researchers, this discovery confirmed that they haven’t wasted their careers.

    Anna Heffernan, Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Florida and the University College Dublin, summed up the sentiment: “I’ve spent my life looking at gravitational waves – at least, the last 11 or 12 years – and to actually find that they really do exist and I haven’t dedicated 12 years to nonsense was a very good feeling.”

    David Blair, from the University of Western Australia, spent even longer in the dark. “I started working on the first high sensitivity gravitational wave detectors in the USA in 1973,” he said. “I expected to spend a year or two detecting Einstein’s waves and then move on to something else … Forty-four years later we have found the holy grail!”

    Image: CSIRO

    2. Astronomers have reached a goal they have chased for decades.

    This discovery not only validated many scientists’ entire careers but also marked the triumphant achievement of a long-held and dearly desired goal: “That is,” said National Science Foundation director France Córdova, “to simultaneously observe rare cosmic events using both traditional as well as gravitational-wave observatories.”

    Cataclysmic Collision Artist’s 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 that are shot out just seconds after the gravitational waves. Swirling clouds of material ejected from the merging stars are also depicted. The clouds glow with visible and other wavelengths of light. Image credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

    It is “very, very exciting” that it worked out in the end, said Rainer Weiss, LIGO co-founder and winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics: “For as long as 40 years, people have been thinking about this, trying to make a detection, sometimes failing in the early days, and then slowly but surely getting the technology together to be able to do it.”

    Scientists persisted for so long, explained Tamara Davis from the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) and the University of Queensland, because hearing this faint sound and momentary burst of light confirmed a suite of predictions – “such as how the heavy elements were created, what happens when neutron stars collide, and how fast is the universe expanding.”

    Ju Li, of the University of Western Australia, agreed: “It is extraordinary that with one faint sound, the faintest sound ever detected, we have created one giant leap in our understanding of the universe.”

    Blair adds: “This is the most amazing vindication of all of Einstein’s theories.”

    3. The discovery involved a massive, unprecedented global collaboration.

    After the initial gravitational waves alert on August 17, hundreds of astronomers around the world leapt into action to try and spot electromagnetic radiation from the source.

    Stefano Covino, at INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera in Italy, says the effort was frankly impressive. “The days were filled with frenetic and exciting activity,” he remembers. “You had the precise feeling that something historic was happening.”

    According to Dave Reitze, executive director of LIGO, these mass-scale follow-up observations allowed astronomers to obtain “a full picture of one of the most violent, cataclysmic events in the universe. This is the most intense observational campaign there has ever been.”

    Matthew Bailes, the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, agrees that the “avalanche of science was virtually unparalleled in modern astrophysics.”

    As a result, dozens of research papers went online on October 16, the day of the official announcement. One paper in particular [The Astrophysical Journal] demonstrates the mind-blowing scale of the collaboration – it’s co-authored by almost 4000 astronomers from more than 900 institutions: about a third of all astronomers in the world.

    4. It marks the beginning of a new era of multi-messenger astronomy.

    “Probably the most exciting thing of all is really that it’s the beginning,” says Richard O’Shaughnessy at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation. “This is a transformation in the way that we’re going to do astronomy.”

    His sentiment was echoed by almost every astronomers who spoke about the event. If there’s one thing scientists get universally excited about, it’s doing more science.

    Jeff Cooke from Swinburne University is among the enthusiastic horde: “Before this event, it was like we were sitting in an IMAX theatre with blindfolds on. The gravitational wave detectors let us ‘hear’ the movies of black hole collisions, but we couldn’t see anything. This event lifted the blindfolds and, wow, what an amazing show!”

    Neil Tanvir from Leicester University explains further: “This discovery has opened up a new approach to astronomical research, where we combine information from both electromagnetic light and from gravitational waves. We call this multi-messenger astronomy – but until now it has just been a dream.”

    Some astronomers, like Edward van den Heuvel from the University of Amsterdam, are already getting pumped for what the next few decades hold.

    “Within 20 years or so, gravitational-wave measurements may be just as routine as X-ray observations have become over the past 40 years,” he says. “It’s really beyond my wildest dreams.”

    5. It’s just plain cool.

    There’s just no getting around the fact that measuring miniscule fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime from a titanic clash of ultra-dense stars 130 million years ago – and in the process, finding that our predictions were spot on – is just amazingly cool.

    Covino is particularly excited because the data coming in so far “are an amazingly close match to theory. It is a triumph for the theorists, a confirmation that the LIGO–VIRGO events are absolutely real.”

    Stephen Smartt of Queen’s University Belfast agrees wholeheartedly: “It’s quite amazing that these physical models predated the discovery by years, but ended up being very similar to the data that we actually saw!”

    According to David Coward from the University of Western Australia, he and his team “knew on day one, when the event happened, that this was something big. This is like gold for scientists.”

    For some astronomers, the discovery is so awesome that words just aren’t enough.

    “Superlatives fail,” says O’Shaughnessy.

    See the full article here .

    See further from UCSC, https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/from-ucsc-neutron-stars-gravitational-waves-and-all-the-gold-in-the-universe/ for the full story including the optical astronomy involved in this event.

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  • richardmitnick 10:35 am on December 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , Dark Matter Winners And Losers In The Aftermath Of LIGO, ,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “Dark Matter Winners And Losers In The Aftermath Of LIGO” 

    Ethan Siegel
    Dec 19, 2017

    Illustration of two black holes merging, of comparable mass to what LIGO saw. Image credit: XS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project (http://www.black-holes.org).

    We’ve come so far since 2015; what do we know about dark matter now that we didn’t know then?

    Back in 2015, the dark matter situation was pretty straightforward: the large-scale structure in the Universe demanded that there be a large amount of cold dark matter, and alternatives were struggling to reproduce those successes.

    Dark matter cosmic web and the large-scale structure it forms The Millenium Simulation, V. Springel et al

    Caterpillar Project A Milky-Way-size dark-matter halo and its subhalos circled, an enormous suite of simulations . Griffen et al. 2016

    Einstein’s General Relativity still needed to work on all scales, from local, Solar System-based tests up to cosmic ones, but there were no direct tests of some of its greatest, strong-field predictions. All of that changed two years ago, with the first announced detection of gravitational waves, courtesy of two merging black holes.

    During both Run I and Run II, LIGO, later joined by the Virgo detector, has detected five black hole-black hole merging pairs, along with one merging neutron star pair. Image credit: LIGO scientific collaboration.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

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

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

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

    Now, as we approach the end of 2017, we’ve used gravitational wave astronomy to detect five merging black holes and a pair of merging neutron stars, a remarkable result all on its own. Yet these detections provide us with a wealth of data about dark matter and its alternatives, replete with winners and losers. In the context of the full suite of evidence, here’s what we know.

    The fabric of spacetime, illustrated, with ripples and deformations due to mass. A new theory must be more than identical to General Relativity; it must make novel, distinct predictions. Owing to the LIGO observations, we know that General Relativity’s predictions are indistinguishable from correct. Image credit: Lionel Bret / Euriolos.

    Winner: Einstein’s General Relativity. First set forth in 1915, Einstein’s theory made explicit predictions for the relationship between spacetime and matter/energy, including a novel prediction about the propagation of gravitational ripples through the fabric of space itself. Any mass moving through a region of spacetime whose curvature is changing should emit gravitational radiation of a specific amplitude and frequency, and that radiation should propagate at the speed of light, distorting space as it passes through. For 100 years, that prediction went untested, until the twin LIGO detectors began seeing their first bona fide events.

    Earlier this year, they observed a neutron star merger, also seen across the electromagnetic (light) spectrum.


    We now know that the arrival time of gravitational waves and light from a singular event differs by no more than 1 part in 1015, confirming relativity’s predictions that the speed of gravity equals the speed of light to a precision never before seen.

    The remnant of supernova 1987a, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud some 165,000 light years away. The fact that neutrinos arrived hours before the first light signal taught us more about the duration it takes light to propagate through the star’s layers of a supernova than it did about the speed neutrinos travel at, which was indistinguishable from the speed of light. Neutrinos, light, and gravity appear to all travel at the same speed now. Image credit: Noel Carboni & the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator.

    Loser: Modified gravity theories where gravity and light obey different rules. There are plenty of ideas out there that the reason there are so many instances where gravity and light don’t match up is because Einstein’s General Relativity isn’t quite right, and that the laws of gravity need to be modified. These theories of modified gravity attempt to do away with dark matter, replacing them with a new law of gravitation. Yet many of the alternatives proposed, in order to solve the problems that dark matter solves, lead to a situation where gravitational waves and light waves propagate through space differently. Those theories that do so are now ruled out, and this includes some of the most promising alternative theories of gravity, such as Bekenstein’s TeVeS.

    All massless particles travel at the speed of light, including the photon, gluon and gravitational waves, which carry the electromagnetic, strong nuclear and gravitational interactions, respectively. The near-identical arrival time of gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves from GW170817 are incredibly important, especially considering that they were delayed by traveling through the same gravitational potential wells created by dark matter. Image credit: NASA/Sonoma State University/Aurore Simonnet.

    Loser: Variable speed of light cosmology. If the constraints are that gravitational waves and the speed of light must be equal to one part in 1,000,000,000,000,000, then the speed of light couldn’t have varied by more than that amount over at least hundreds of millions of years. If you want to change the speed of light, then you’d have to change the speed of gravity as well, and there are tight constraints on combinations of G, c, and h (Planck’s constant), the last of which is not allowed to vary due to the consistency of atomic spectra. Some instances of these models attempt to do away with dark matter or dark energy; owing to LIGO, it’s now known that most of these models will not work. In many ways, the idea that the speed of light varies over cosmic times has taken a tremendous hit from LIGO’s observations.

    In this Hubble Space Telescope image, the many red galaxies are members of the massive MACS J1149.6+2223 cluster, which creates distorted and highly magnified images of the galaxies behind it. A large cluster galaxy (centre of the box) has split the light from an exploding supernova in a magnified background galaxy into four yellow images (arrows), whose arrival time was delayed relative to one another owing to the bending of spacetime by mass. Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA and NASA.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Winner: Cold dark matter.

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex Mittelmann Cold creation

    Particularly from the neutron star mergers 130 million light years away, there ought to be a delay in the arrival time of the gravitational wave signal due to intervening matter on the order of a few hundred years. The fact that the arrival of both light waves and gravitational waves were delayed by the same amount provides further evidence for dark matter, especially considering that a quadruply-lensed supernova had already been observed in light waves, demonstrating that dark matter delays the arrival time of light signals. If there were no dark matter, this behavior should be vastly different; our gravitational wave observatories have provided further, independent evidence that dark matter is real.

    Although the constraints on black holes in the LIGO-sensitive mass range looked suggestive, an analysis of supernovae given the LIGO results showed that no more than about a third of the dark matter could be in the form of primordial black holes in this range. Image credit: Miguel Zumalacarregui and Uros Seljak (2017), via https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.02240.

    Loser: Primordial black holes as dark matter. A fringe idea has always been that perhaps dark matter isn’t particle-based, but rather is made out of black holes that were formed shortly after the Big Bang. While there haven’t been any demonstrated mechanisms that could produce large amounts of black holes of a particular mass value while leaving the rest of our cosmic large-scale structure unchanged, it the duty of observations to rule an idea out. Previously, a series of constraints had been imposed from a variety of cosmic sources, but discoveries of binary black holes in the range of 10–100 solar masses revived the idea that black holes could be dark matter.

    In a new paper out just last week, however, Miguel Zumalacarregui and Uros Seljak showed that the effects of black holes, supernovae, and light propagation all work to rule out the majority of dark matter being in primordial black holes of this particular mass range. There is no way primordial black holes in the mass range that LIGO is sensitive to could be even a majority of the dark matter.

    Constraints on WIMP dark matter are quite severe, experimentally. The lowest curve rules out WIMP (weakly interacting massive particle) cross-sections and dark matter masses for anything located above it. Image credit: Xenon-100 Collaboration (2012), via http://arxiv.org/abs/1207.5988.

    Xenon-100 Collaboration at the Italian Gran Sasso laboratory.

    NAZIONALI del GRAN SASSO, located in L’Aquila, Italy

    Loser: WIMPs in general, and supersymmetry in particular. As compelling as the cold dark matter explanation is, the most common candidate we’re seeking is a WIMP: a weakly interacting massive particle. Extensive direct detection searches are ongoing, both at the LHC (where we look for missing mass/energy in a collision) and in isolated recoil detectors. The bounds on these particles are now so extreme that the supersymmetric WIMPs, originally designed to solve other problems (such as the hierarchy problem in physics) can no longer solve them in the allowable mass range. When the LIGO results are taken in combination with the results from the LHC and other experiments, it’s looking grim for WIMPs.

    The mass difference between an electron, the lightest normal Standard Model particle, and the heaviest possible neutrino is more than a factor of 4,000,000, a gap even larger than the difference between the electron and the top quark. Image credit: Hitoshi Murayama.

    Winner: Massive neutrinos. The first (and only) evidence of a particle physics phenomenon the Standard Model doesn’t explain is neutrino oscillations, implying that neutrinos have a very light but non-zero mass. Why is this? The most popular explanation is that neutrinos come in two distinct varieties, left-and-right-handed, balanced on a see-saw, and that the right-handed type has a very heavy mass fall on its side. This means the left-handed neutrinos today will be very light, while the right-handed ones make an excellent dark matter candidate. If this is true, there should be a special type of decay observed: neutrinoless double beta decay.

    When a nucleus experiences a double neutron decay, two electrons and two neutrinos get emitted conventionally. If neutrinos obey this see-saw mechanism and are Majorana particles, neutrinoless double beta decay should be possible. Experiments are actively looking for this. Image credit: Ludwig Niedermeier, Universitat Tubingen / GERDA.

    There are experiments looking for exactly this, but even more compellingly, this is a phenomenon that demands an explanation even if it isn’t the full answer to the dark matter problem. LIGO’s results are consistent with this type of dark matter, although — to be fair — LIGO itself is not very good at constraining either WIMP-based or neutrino-based dark matter. To understand what the Universe is made of, you need to look at the full suite of evidence, going well beyond what a single type of experiment/observation can tell you.

    This three-dimensional projection of the Milky Way galaxy onto a transparent globe shows the probable locations of the three confirmed black-hole merger events observed by the two LIGO detectors — GW150914 (dark green), GW151226 (blue), GW170104 (magenta) — and a fourth confirmed detection (GW170814, light green, lower-left) that was observed by Virgo and the LIGO detectors. Also shown (in orange) is the lower significance event, LVT151012. Three detectors will allow us to detect and identify the position of gravitational wave events to far greater precision than merely two. Image credit: LIGO/Virgo/Caltech/MIT/Leo Singer (Milky Way image: Axel Mellinger).

    It’s still too early to say exactly what dark matter is (and what it isn’t), but it’s very easy to see what’s looking better and what requires even more special pleading in the aftermath of the past two years. General Relativity has passed another, very stringent test with flying colors: gravitational waves are real, carry energy, have the properties (amplitude, frequency, redshift, polarization, etc.) they were predicted to have, and move precisely at the speed of light. Modified gravity theories where photons and gravitational waves follow different rules are highly constrained, and primordial black holes and WIMPs, particularly supersymmetric WIMPs, are looking less and less likely.

    Large scale projection through the Illustris volume at z=0, centered on the most massive cluster, 15 Mpc/h deep. Shows dark matter density (left) transitioning to gas density (right). The large-scale structure of the Universe cannot be explained without dark matter, though many modified gravity attempts exist. Image credit: Illustris Collaboration / Illustris Simulation.

    On the other hand, cold dark matter is still very much needed on a variety of scales, and the LIGO observations have done nothing to poke any sorts of holes in that idea. When you incorporate the full suite of evidence, it’s plausible that massive neutrinos — already the only known particle physics beyond the Standard Model — may hold the key to solving not only the dark matter problem, but the matter-antimatter asymmetry and could be linked to dark energy as well. It’s a transformative time for fundamental physics, and the direct observations of the Universe on the largest, cosmic scales have so much to teach us about the fundamental rules and particles governing the Universe on the smallest scales of all. Thanks to our first gravitational wave observations, we may be closer to understanding our dark Universe than ever before.

    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 4:06 pm on November 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , GW170608   

    From AAS NOVA: “LIGO Finds Lightest Black-Hole Binary” 



    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Wednesday evening the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration quietly mentioned that they’d found gravitational waves from yet another black-hole binary back in June. This casual announcement reveals what is so far the lightest pair of black holes we’ve watched merge — opening the door for comparisons to the black holes we’ve detected by electromagnetic means.

    A Routine Detection

    The chirp signal of GW170608 detected by LIGO Hanford and LIGO Livingston. [LIGO collaboration 2017]

    After the fanfare of the previous four black-hole-binary merger announcements over the past year and a half — as well as the announcement of the one neutron-star binary merger in August — GW170608 marks our entry into the era in which gravitational-wave detections are officially “routine”.

    GW170608, a gravitational-wave signal from the merger of two black holes roughly a billion light-years away, was detected in June of this year. This detection occurred after we’d already found gravitational waves from several black-hole binaries with the two LIGO detectors in the U.S., but before the Virgo interferometer came online in Europe and increased the joint ability of the detectors to localize sources.

    Mass estimates for the two components of GW170608 using different models. [LIGO collaboration 2017]

    Overall, GW170608 is fairly unremarkable: it was detected by both LIGO Hanford and LIGO Livingston some 7 ms apart, and the signal looks not unlike those of the previous LIGO detections. But because we’re still in the early days of gravitational-wave astronomy, every discovery is still remarkable in some way! GW170608 stands out as being the lightest pair of black holes we’ve yet to see merge, with component masses before the merger estimated at ~12 and ~7 times the mass of the Sun.

    Why Size Matters

    With the exception of GW151226, the gravitational-wave signal discovered on Boxing Day last year, all of the black holes that have been discovered by LIGO/Virgo have been quite large: the masses of the components have all been estimated at 20 solar masses or more. This has made it difficult to compare these black holes to those detected by electromagnetic means — which are mostly under 10 solar masses in size.

    GW170608 is the lowest-mass of the LIGO/Virgo black-hole mergers shown in blue. The primary mass is comparable to the masses of black holes we have measured by electromagnetic means (purple detections). [LIGO-Virgo/Frank Elavsky/Northwestern]

    One type of electromagnetically detected black hole are those in low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs). LMXBs consist of a black hole and a non-compact companion: a low-mass donor star that overflows its Roche lobe, feeding material onto the black hole. It is thought that these black holes form without significant spin, and are later spun up as a result of the mass accretion. Before LIGO, however, we didn’t have any non-accreting black holes of this size to observe for comparison.

    Now, detections like GW170608 and the Boxing Day event (which was also on the low end of the mass scale) are allowing us to start exploring spin distributions of non-accreting black holes to determine if we’re right in our understanding of black-hole spins. We don’t yet have a large enough comparison sample to make a definitive statement, but GW170608 is indicative of a wealth of more discoveries we can hope to find in LIGO’s next observing run, after a series of further design upgrades scheduled to conclude in 2018. The future of gravitational wave astronomy continues to look promising!


    LIGO collaboration, submitted to ApJL. https://arxiv.org/abs/1711.05578

    See the full article here .

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    AAS Mission and Vision Statement

    The mission of the American Astronomical Society is 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 3:40 pm on November 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Black Hole Binaries Detected, Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , GW170814,   

    From LIGO via Manu: “LIGO and Virgo announce the detection of a black hole binary merger from June 8, 2017” 

    Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    LIGO Scientific Collaboration

    News Release • November 15, 2017

    Black Hole Binaries Detected

    Scientists searching for gravitational waves have confirmed yet another detection from their fruitful observing run earlier this year. Dubbed GW170608, the latest discovery was produced by the merger of two relatively light black holes, 7 and 12 times the mass of the sun, at a distance of about a billion light-years from Earth. The merger left behind a final black hole 18 times the mass of the sun, meaning that energy equivalent to about 1 solar mass was emitted as gravitational waves during the collision.

    This event, detected by the two NSF-supported LIGO detectors at 02:01:16 UTC on June 8, 2017 (or 10:01:16 pm on June 7 in US Eastern Daylight time), was actually the second binary black hole merger observed during LIGO’s second observation run since being upgraded in a program called Advanced LIGO. But its announcement was delayed due to the time required to understand two other discoveries: a LIGO-Virgo three-detector observation of gravitational waves from another binary black hole merger (GW170814) on August 14, and the first-ever detection of a binary neutron star merger (GW170817) in light and gravitational waves on August 17.

    A paper describing the newly confirmed observation, “GW170608: Observation of a 19-solar-mass binary black hole coalescence,” authored by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Additional information for the scientific and general public can be found at http://www.ligo.org/detections/GW170608.php.

    A fortuitous detection

    The fact that researchers were able to detect GW170608 involved some luck.

    A month before this detection, LIGO paused its second observation run to open the vacuum systems at both sites and perform maintenance. While researchers at LIGO Livingston, in Louisiana, completed their maintenance and were ready to observe again after about two weeks, LIGO Hanford, in Washington, encountered additional problems that delayed its return to observing.

    On the afternoon of June 7 (PDT), LIGO Hanford was finally able to stay online reliably and staff were making final preparations to once again “listen” for incoming gravitational waves. As part of these preparations, the team at Hanford was making routine adjustments to reduce the level of noise in the gravitational-wave data caused by angular motion of the main mirrors. To disentangle how much this angular motion affected the data, scientists shook the mirrors very slightly at specific frequencies. A few minutes into this procedure, GW170608 passed through Hanford’s interferometer, reaching Louisiana about 7 milliseconds later.

    LIGO Livingston quickly reported the possible detection, but since Hanford’s detector was being worked on, its automated detection system was not engaged. While the procedure being performed affected LIGO Hanford’s ability to automatically analyze incoming data, it did not prevent LIGO Hanford from detecting gravitational waves. The procedure only affected a narrow frequency range, so LIGO researchers, having learned of the detection in Louisiana, were still able to look for and find the waves in the data after excluding those frequencies. For this detection, Virgo was still in a commissioning phase; it started taking data on August 1.

    More to learn about black holes

    GW170608 is the lightest black hole binary that LIGO and Virgo have observed – and so is one of the first cases where black holes detected through gravitational waves have masses similar to black holes detected indirectly via electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays.

    This discovery will enable astronomers to compare the properties of black holes gleaned from gravitational wave observations with those of similar-mass black holes previously only detected with X-ray studies, and fills in a missing link between the two classes of black hole observations.

    Despite their relatively diminutive size, GW170608’s black holes will greatly contribute to the growing field of “multimessenger astronomy,” where gravitational wave astronomers and electromagnetic astronomers work together to learn more about these exotic and mysterious objects.

    What’s next

    The LIGO and Virgo detectors are currently offline for further upgrades to improve sensitivity. Scientists expect to launch a new observing run in fall 2018, though there will be occasional test runs during which detections may occur.

    LIGO and Virgo scientists continue to study data from the completed O2 observing run, searching for other events already “in the can,” and are preparing for the greater sensitivity expected for the fall O3 observing run.

    See the full article here .

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    About the LSC

    The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is a group of scientists seeking to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, use them to explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and develop the emerging field of gravitational wave science as a tool of astronomical discovery. The LSC works toward this goal through research on, and development of techniques for, gravitational wave detection; and the development, commissioning and exploitation of gravitational wave detectors.

    The LSC carries out the science of the LIGO Observatories, located in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana as well as that of the GEO600 detector in Hannover, Germany. Our collaboration is organized around three general areas of research: analysis of LIGO and GEO data searching for gravitational waves from astrophysical sources, detector operations and characterization, and development of future large scale gravitational wave detectors.

    Founded in 1997, the LSC is currently made up of more than 1000 scientists from dozens of institutions and 15 countries worldwide. A list of the participating universities.

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy
    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

  • richardmitnick 9:45 am on November 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , All the Gold in the World, , , , Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo, , , ,   

    From Swinburne University: “Research captures wonders of the universe, and imaginations” 

    Swinburne U bloc

    Swinburne University

    15 November 2017
    Lea Kivivali
    +61 3 9214 5428

    An illustration of two merging neutron stars from the US National Science Foundation | Image: AFP

    One of the great things about science is that the money we invest in research often brings a return through commercially useful discoveries or advances that improve the quality of life for us all.

    Even in my field of astrophysics, research discoveries have been made that led to huge practical benefits. For example, Wi-Fi, which all of us use every day, is the result of CSIRO mastery of fourier techniques that were being used for both astrophysics and applied research.

    But astrophysics also reveals inherent wonders about the universe, and in this past year we have hit some phenomenal goals.

    On October 17, for the first time, scientists measured the violent death spiral of two dense neutron stars — the dense cores of stars that have exploded and died — as they collided at nearly the speed of light, creating what many called the greatest fireworks show in the universe.


    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz


    A UC Santa Cruz special report

    Tim Stephens

    Astronomer Ryan Foley says “observing the explosion of two colliding neutron stars” [see https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/from-ucsc-first-observations-of-merging-neutron-stars-mark-a-new-era-in-astronomy ]–the first visible event ever linked to gravitational waves–is probably the biggest discovery he’ll make in his lifetime. That’s saying a lot for a young assistant professor who presumably has a long career still ahead of him.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

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

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

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

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Not only did we see the collision, we could hear it as the two stars, each the size of a city, completed 4000 orbits in the last 100 seconds of their cosmic dance.

    It was a landmark discovery from an international team that included almost 100 Australian scientists and it resonated with the public in a way that only black holes, dying stars and fireballs in the universe can do. It was science at its most impressive, almost inconceivable yet intensely fascinating. It also reminded us that basic science — the science that isn’t immediately geared towards industrial applications — remains immensely important.

    A century ago, Albert Einstein realised that gravity could be mimicked by acceleration — that light bent when passing near massive objects, and that the fabric of space-time could be shaken by the acceleration of the stars and planets.

    A natural consequence of his theory was that stars beyond a certain density would collapse to become black holes, terrifying objects that possessed such strong gravity that not even light could escape them. He also predicted that the stars and planets emitted a strange and mysterious new form of radiation known as gravitational waves. But was Einstein right? Did black holes exist and did his equations correctly describe their behaviour? Does time really stand still in their vicinity and do gravitational waves permeate the universe? These are questions that are incredibly fundamental to how the universe ultimately works but that Einstein thought were impossible to verify experimentally.

    It appears completely ludicrous to even think about trying to do experiments on black holes when you realise that you’d have to shrink the Earth into a ball just 2cm in diameter for it to become one. For our sun the black hole diameter seems more achievable, more like 6km — except when you learn that the sun weighs about 300,000 Earths and about 18 billion tonnes has to fit in every cubic centimetre.

    This year’s Nobel prize winners in physics (Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish) realised that it was possible to build a machine that could hypothetically detect colliding black holes or their ultra-dense cousins, neutron stars, in the nearest million galaxies — should they exist and ever collide. Their detector, called Advanced LIGO, was the first to have a realistic chance of detecting the ripples in space-time induced by Einstein’s gravitational waves.

    The technology behind this facility is staggering. More than 1000 people from around the world have contributed to the instruments, which fire powerful lasers at pairs of mirrors (beautifully polished in Australia) hanging from complex suspensions 4km away in the world’s largest vacuum tubes. Australia is one of four countries in the project.

    When Advanced LIGO began its science operations in September 2015, it started listening for tremors in the fabric of space-time for the first time.

    Remarkably, it wasn’t long before LIGO saw a burst of gravitational waves from two black holes as they destroyed each other in the last few orbits of a death spiral that probably had been under way for billions of years.

    Black holes are deceptively simple objects, defined by their mass, spin and charge, and the pair involved in the September 2015 event were about 1300 million light years away.

    Their detection proved that gravitational waves existed and that black holes 30 times the mass of our sun did too. For the first time scientists got to experiment with gravity in the vicinity of a black hole.

    In August this year the first pair of merging neutron stars were seen by LIGO. Neutron stars are so dense that a teaspoon weighs a billion tonnes, but when they collide they produce an explosion that briefly creates a fireball in the sky. This event proved Einstein’s postulate that the speed of gravity and the speed of light were equivalent, to four parts in 10,000 trillion — one of the most precise confirmations of a physical law in the history of physics.

    Last Thursday the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery was opened by federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. The centre, which has been operating since April, has been born in a year that will likely go down in history as a monumental one for astrophysics.

    The existence of the centre, and the excitement surrounding gravitational wave science, is testament to those who believe that basic science, the science of discovery, is a goal unto itself. This year, the LIGO gravitational wave detectors acted like a stethoscope, allowing us to listen to the vibrations in the fabric of space-time.

    The appeal of the resultant science — which may not have any immediate monetary worth — is fascinating because it is truly universal, intangible and priceless.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Swinburne U Campus

    Swinburne is a large and culturally diverse organisation. A desire to innovate and bring about positive change motivates our students and staff. The result is in an institution that grows and evolves each year.

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