Gravitational Waves 2017

Gravitational Waves 2017

2017 saw a series of impressive discoveries during the LIGO-Virgo second observing run. Early in January we made our third binary-black-hole observation (GW170104). Another black-hole signal arrived later in June (GW170608).

In August came two impressive observations. The first followed the inclusion in August of the French-Italian Virgo detector in the observing run, with the first binary-black-hole observation that included three detectors, on August 14th. A third detector made it possible to accurately triangulate the position of the source on the sky, making a dramatic improvement over previous observations.

Only three days later, on August 17th, came the first observation of gravitational waves from two neutron stars spiralling together. This observation was astounding in several ways. The source was only 40 Mpc away, ten times closer than the breakthrough binary-black-hole merger observed in 2015; that lead to the strongest signal we have yet observed. This signal made it possible to provide the strongest support yet for Einstein’s general relativity, an independent measurement of the Hubble constant, the first strong-field constraints on the equation of state of neutron stars.

Beyond that, the results of the merger – a gamma-ray burst and afterglow – were observed by many EM telescope teams. This marks the beginning of multi-messenger astronomy, and the implications for astronomy and astrophysics are still being understood.

 Fig. 1: Time-frequency map of two neutron stars spiralling together.

An integral part of all of these GW measurements were the theoretical models of binary-black-hole signals that were developed with the aid of numerical simulations performed on DiRAC. In the weeks following the first binary-neutron-star observation, these models were extended to include neutron-star tidal terms. In preparation for the next observing run, due to begin in early 2019, these models have also been extended to an approximate model of subdominant harmonics, and this model is now being more precisely tuned to numerical simulations.