Are we still listening to space?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 - 14:30 in Astronomy & Space

When LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, and its European counterpart, Virgo, detect a gravitational ripple from space, a public alert is sent out. That alert lets researchers know with a decently high confidence that this ripple was probably caused by an exceptional cosmic event, such as the collision of neutron stars or the merging of black holes, somewhere in the universe. Then starts the scramble. A pair of researchers is assigned to the incoming event, analyzing the data to get a preliminary location in the sky whence the ripple emanated. Telescopes are pointed in that direction, more data is amassed, and the pair of researchers conducts further followup studies to try to determine what kind of event caused the wave. “I often think of it as if we’re in a dark forest and listening to the ground,” says Eva Huang, a third-year Department of Physics graduate student in Assistant Professor Salvatore...

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