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Listening for Gravitational Waves Using Pulsars

Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:54 pm

One of the most spectacular achievements in physics so far this century has been the observation of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time that result from masses accelerating in space. So far, there have been five detections of gravitational waves, thanks to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and, more recently, the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector. Using these facilities, scientists have been able to pin down the extremely subtle signals from relatively small black holes and, as of October, neutron stars.

But there are merging objects far larger whose gravitational wave signals have not yet been detected: supermassive black holes, more than 100 million times more massive than our Sun. Most large galaxies have a central supermassive black hole. When galaxies collide, their central black holes tend to spiral toward each other, releasing gravitational waves in their cosmic dance. Much as a large animal like a lion produces a deeper roar than a tiny mouse's squeak, merging supermassive black holes create lower-frequency gravitational waves than the relatively small black holes LIGO and similar ground-based experiments can detect.

"Observing low-frequency gravitational waves would be akin to being able to hear bass singers, not just sopranos," said Joseph Lazio, chief scientist for NASA's Deep Space Network, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a new study in Nature Astronomy.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:56 pm

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Credits: SXS

This computer simulation shows the collision of two black holes, which produces gravitational waves.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:57 pm



Pulsars are compact stars that emit electromagnetic radiation. As the pulsar rotates, the emission beam sweeps our line of sight and we see a pulse. Some pulsars, named millisecond pulsars are very stable rotators. These can be used to probe fundamental physics such as in the detection of gravitational waves.

These waves were predicted to exist in Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, but are yet to be directly detected. A passing gravitational wave changes the arrival time of a pulse, introducing a detectable signature in the pulsar signal. Astronomers observe and time pulsars in order to detect gravitational waves.

 

 
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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:59 pm



The sound of 5 Milk Way pulsars.

 
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