Discovering gravitational waves from very big black hole crash using pulsars

Gravity waves are basically ripples  distortions in the medium that we live in space-time itself. Credit ESO  NASA

Gravity waves are basically ripples distortions in the medium that we live in space-time itself. Credit ESO NASA

The existence of gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity about a hundred years ago, was only confirmed only last year.

Usually, these detectors like LIGO or Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or the Virgo are able to detect gravitational waves which are created when two spiraling small black holes. But the method to detect the merger of supermassive black holes will rely on pulsars.

In the case of the September 14, 2015, observation which was announced on February 11, 2016, scientists observed gravitational waves produced by the collision of black holes with a mass about a dozen times that of the Sun. That's because they ripple out at a much lower frequency, and a new study has outlined where and how to start looking.

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

The researchers say pulsars are key to tapping into the songs of these intergalactic Barry Whites. This in turn shortens the time required to observe gravitational waves. Pulsars are dense neutron stars that rapidly rotate, emitting electromagnetic signals like clockwork. The regularity and strength of those signals has earned them the nickname "cosmic lighthouses", and programs are now using huge arrays of known pulsars to search for gravitational waves.

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In a few years, astronomers could catch the very first glimpse of powerful gravitational waves coming from merging supermassive black holes. "And since the pulsars we study are about 3,000 light-years away, they act as a galactic-scale gravitational-wave detector". These monsters lurk at the center of many galaxies, and so their collisions might mark the grand finale of two galaxies merging into one.

Ultimately, detecting a gravitational wave generated by merging supermassive black holes could teach us more about how galaxies form and merge, helping us unravel the secrets of the universe. To figure all this out, the team used data from the 2 Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), and combined it with galaxy merger rates pulled from the Illustris simulation project. However, the smaller Sombrero Galaxy black holes mergers would offer a 160 million-year window.

So far, there have been only five instances of gravitational waves detection. Thus the merger of the blackholes happens for a short time.

Mingarelli said that the absence of gravitational wave sighting within the decade-long time frame should force scientists to reevaluate the process of how supermassive black holes unite.

The researchers hope that the array can also teach us about how galaxies are formed and what happens when they merge - which could be useful information, considering we're now on-course for a collision with our neighboring Andromeda galaxy.

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