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Modeling Extreme Astrophysical Black Hole Binaries
PI:  Carlos Lousto; Co-PI: (s): Joshua Faber, Manuela Campanelli, Yosef Zlochower
Award:  NSF PHY-1305730 Dates:  09/01/2013—08/31/2016; Funds:  $546,675


Gravitational Wave (GW) Astronomy promises to provide a revolutionary new view of the universe that can probe previously unexplorable regions, including the interiors of neutron stars, collisions of black holes, which emit energy at luminosities exceeding the entire visible universe, and even remnants of the big bang. However, the challenges are significant because the GW signals will be hidden in orders of magnitude larger noise. To gain new insight into the dynamics of the universe, GW astronomers need to be able to infer the nature of the sources from the observed signals. However, the physical parameters of these sources can only be extracted from the observed signals if the dependence of the waveform on source parameters is known to high-accuracy. The success of the GW astronomy efforts therefore depends critically on advancements in Numerical Relativity (NR). This award funds the well-established research program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to model merging black hole binaries in the highly-nonlinear regime, which are among the loudest sources for aLIGO/AdVirgo. We focus on binaries in the technically difficult small-mass-ratio, highly-spinning, and highly-precessing regimes, which requires new developments in code optimization, new gauge conditions (especially gauge conditions adapted for the high-spin regime), non-conformally flat initial data for high spins and linear momentum, as well as hybrid numerical/perturbative techniques that will allow us to model a large range of binaries using relatively few numerical simulations. Our principle goals will be to produce waveforms from these extreme binaries of sufficient accuracy for aLIGO/AdVirgo GW data analysis, and to model the gravitational radiation recoil (as well as remnant mass and spins) from highly-precessing binaries in order to elucidate the distributions of these recoils and how they affect the distribution and growth of supermassive black holes. This research is very timely now that aLIGO is scheduled to come online in 2015. 

Our research will directly benefit the aLIGO/AdVirgo project, the NINJA and NRAR projects, and an emerging new field in astrophysics: The search for the observational consequences of merging and recoiling black holes. The research proposed here will complement other ongoing projects of our NR group to include matter and magnetic fields in our vacuum general relativistic code in order to study EM counterparts to compact-object mergers and to model accretion disk dynamics near supermassive black holes. This award will not only enable the PIs to enhance their research program, but it will also be used to greatly enhance the research effort at RIT as a whole. The award supports graduate student research in RIT's PhD Astronomy program and a proposed new PhD program in 'Modeling and Computation'. Importantly, our research will be the focus of our new partnership with RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf on an NSF-funded project that combines innovative dance and theater performances to promote science to the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Visualizations will also be a vehicle for public outreach events on science, mathematics, and computing through site visits and annual community-wide public exhibits like 'ImagineRIT'.