Scientists spot rare gravity waves for the third time

LIGO's third detection hints at how black hole binaries are born

LIGO's third detection hints at how black hole binaries are born

LIGO changed that. past year the collaboration announced that its twin detectors had picked up a passing distortion in late 2015 caused by two black holes crashing into one another. The black holes are spinning in a non-aligned fashion, which means they have different orientations relative to the overall orbital motion of the pair. With three detectors, gravitational wave astronomy is in position to reach for the stars.

That's when the ghosts of two dead stars - black holes dozens of times more massive than our sun - merged in a far-off corner of the universe. Typically, these cosmic disturbances are too small to notice; but when the objects are massive enough-a pair of colliding black holes, for example-then the signal may be large enough to trigger a "blip" at the LIGO detectors, the pair of gravitational wave laboratories located in Louisiana and in Washington state.

By matching the shape of the waves with computer models, scientists confirmed the collision took place about 3 billion light years from Earth, twice as far as previous detections. During the machine's downtime, an upgrade made to its Livingston detector increased the distance it would be able to "see" during the first set of observations. Two times the mass of Earth's sun was converted directly into energy in a fraction of a second.

The galactic mash-up which produced the gravitational waves occurred some three billion light-years away, and marks the science world's third observation of this phenomenon. Because of this worldwide collaboration, dozens of researchers co-authored the findings, published Thursday in the journal Physical Review Letters. The latter theory prefers that the pair of black holes will both have to have aligned spins.

Scientists are hoping that the discovery of a second set of gravitational waves, nearly simu...

"We're really moving from novelty to a new observational science", said David Shoemaker, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spokesman for the collaboration. The second detection was made in December 2015.

Georgia Tech's Laura Cadonati, deputy spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, told GeekWire that the finding represents "a new tile to put in the puzzle" of black hole formation. That would imply that the black holes were not born together as stars.

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Artist's conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. "With another event of this kind, we are realizing that heavy binary black holes are more common than we had believed just a little over a year ago".

"This is exactly what we hoped for from NSF's investment in LIGO: taking us deeper into time and space in ways we couldn't do before the detection of gravitational waves", said NSF director France Córdova in a statement. On these terms, the new black holes complied, at least a little bit. Many LIGO researchers thought they'd start to see some of those smaller singularities.

"The UChicago LIGO group has played an important role in this latest discovery, including helping to discern what emitted the gravitational waves, testing whether Einstein's theory of general relativity was correct, and exploring whether electromagnetic radiation-such as visible light, radio, or X-rays-were also emanated by the black hole collision", said Daniel Holz, associate professor in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics, and head of UChicago's LIGO group.

While there are still many questions yet to answer, this new detection fills in a gap in black hole knowledge for scientists studying them.

Enter LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), initially conceived as a "thought experiment" by MIT physics professor Rainer Weiss half a century ago during his sole semester teaching relativity.

"Now we have three pairs of black holes, each pair ending their death spiral dance over millions or billions of years in some of the most powerful explosions in the universe". The instrument compresses or expands the mirrors at the ends of the tunnels when a gravitational wave strikes the observatory.

LIGO's next big breakthrough is expected to come from detecting collisions of binary neutron stars - the corpses of dead stars that pack a sun's worth of mass into a city-sized sphere. "It is remarkable that humans can put together a story, and test it, for such odd and extreme events that took place billions of years ago and billions of light-years distant from us". The shown black holes are spinning, and angular momentum is exchanged among the two black holes and with the orbit. The NSF led in financial support for the Advanced LIGO project with funding organizations in Germany (MPG), the U.K. (STFC) and Australia (ARC) making significant commitments to the project.

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