Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger

Significance to the RIT team

Aerial view of the LIGO detector in Hanford, Washington State.

Researchers at RIT’s Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (CCRG) contributed to the first direct detection of a gravitational wave signal reported by the LIGO and Virgo scientific collaborations on February 11, 2016, 10:30AM.

Six RIT scientists are among the authors of an upcoming paper in Physical Review Letters, which confirms the existence of gravitational waves predicted in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Their years of research in the fields of gravitational wave data analysis and numerical relativity contributed to the discovery.

Main Figure from paper showing numerical relativity simulations that matches the LIGO signals.

The twin LIGO detectors observed the signal on Sept. 14, 2015, and determined it to be from the inspiral, merger and ringdown of a binary black holes system. The signal was consistent with numerical simulations of binary black holes produced at the CCRG based on their earlier work in 2005 which produced a breakthrough in the field of numerical relativity. Those simulations were used to determine the parameters of the binary black hole system and the first actual gravitational waveform.

gRavItaTion at RIT - the dawn of a new era

gRavItaTion at RIT - the dawn of a new era

A tale about the recent discovery from the perspective of RIT researchers whose work was instrumental to confirm Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

Binary Black Hole Merger Simulation

Capition: Simulation and Visualization by RIT team members: Jame Healy, Carlos Lousto, Yosef Zlochower, Hans-Peter Bischof, Manuela Campanelli, Edited by: Tommy Longtens and Matt Cavanaugh (Stock Production)

Binary Black Hole Merger Simulation produced by the RIT team

The simulation shows the gravitational radiation from the merger of a binary black hole system.  Using the world's fastest supercomputers to solve Einstein's equations for general relativity, this binary black hole system is one of the longest ever simulated, includes 48 orbits before the two black holes merge into a single remnant black hole. This system also displays an interesting phenomenon called a "flip-flop" where the spin of one of the black holes totally switches directions over the course of the evolution. The simulation are based on the work published in two Physical Review Letters articles [1] and [2]. The first paper was chosen as a landmark paper by the American Physical Society  “2015—General Relativity’s Centennial” website is a collection of seminal papers celebrating 100 years of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

RIT Numerical simulation of the merger

RIT Numerical simulation of the merger of a pair of black holes and simulated gravitational waveform that match the one which LIGO detected. Credits: Carlos Lousto and Jim Healy

RIT CCRG researchers

RIT CCRG researchers who contributed to this amazing discovery

Front row: Jam Sadiq, John Whelan, Jason Nordhaus, Monica Rizzo, Carlos Lousto, Manuela Campanelli; Second row: Joshua Faber, Brennan Ireland, Naixin (Chris) Kang; Third row: Yosef Zlochower, Yuanhao (Harry) Zhang, Richard O'Shaughnessy; Fourth row: Dennis Bowen, Jake Lange; Fifth row: Zachary Silberman, Hans-Peter Bischof, James Healy. See also the The gravitational wave team team at RIT.


Opening a New Window in the Universe:

Advanced LIGO’ s reach into the distant universe

Advanced LIGO’ s reach into the distant universe

The first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first observation of a binary black hole merger are the first steps down a new path for astronomy. Aside from the unexpected, here’s what we’re looking forward to at RIT:

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  • A census of coalescing binaries: Until now a mystery, gravitational waves will pin down how often and what kinds of binaries merge: a census of the previously unknown.  Working with other astronomers, we’ll learn what black holes and neutron stars nature provides, and why.  At RIT, our experience with strong-field gravity enables us to extract unique insights from these merging binaries, directly comparing LIGO data to the predictions of Einstein’s theory.

    Building on the first detection, this census will also allow us to make unique high-precision tests of Einstein’s theory in a wide range of laboratories.  
     
  • More to come: “At RIT, we’ve developed the current-best strategy to find gravitational waves from some of the billion-plus neutron stars in our galaxy. LIGO has a wide range of strategies to pull new insight from its data.  For example,  we expect that LIGO will soon detect the “hum” from every merging black hole in the universe since the beginning of time. That will provide a powerful check on models for how binary black holes form, like those Prof. O’Shaughnessy develops.” –John Whelan
     
  • Simultaneously seeing and hearing explosions:  When neutron stars merge, they’re torn apart by strong tidal forces, releasing a burst of radiation while throwing material off to large distances.  Astronomers think these disruptions are behind two types of odd flashes, short gamma ray burst and kilonovae.  Working with astronomers, LIGO can identify when and where merging neutron stars occur in the universe, tell telescopes where to look, and working together produce a census of mergers with and without radiation.
     
  • The next horizon, the next frontier, and the next generation: LIGO has just provided the first glimpse into the gravitational wave sky, but not the last.  At RIT, we’re working on a wide range of gravitational wave astrophysics, including looking forward to the next generation of earth and space-based instruments with even greater and equally transformative reach.  
     

We’re one of a handful of groups worldwide developing the tools and performing the simulations needed to interpret phenomena dominated by strong-field physics in Einstein’s theory of gravity.  Our projects include tidal disruption and accretion physics near supermassive black holes, a central ingredient in the growth of structure over cosmic time and, when in binaries, a strong source of gravitational waves for pulsar timing arrays.

And we’re training the next generation of gravitational wave astronomers, to take advantage of this new frontier.


Examples of Data Analysis Projects:

Source: Distinguishing black-hole spin-orbit resonances by their gravitational wave signatures.

We understand strong-field physics; we understand precessing binaries. The dynamics of merging binary black holes can be complicated. The information that is observationally accessible may not be immediately apparent. The RIT-based parameter estimation team, Richard O’Shaughnessy and Jacob Lange, knows how to get this information out, and what information is really available. We know what correlations are hidden in the data, what correlations are meaningful, and what correlations have significance to astrophysics.

The cross-correlation team, led by RIT's John Whelan and Yuanhao Zhang and with collaborators in Germany and India, developed the most sensitive searchfor gravitational waves (GWs) from low mass X-ray binaries. This method found all simulated signals from Scorpius X-1 in a mock data challenge and has the potential to detect a GW signal from Sco X-1 as Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo collect even more sensitive data in the coming years.

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Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, School of Mathematical Sciences,
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