Aerospace and Defense

The Mapping of Black Hole Collisions Gives Astronomers a New View

28 September 2017

Rochester Institute of Technology researchers have helped pinpoint the exact location of a gravitational wave signal – and the black hole merger that produced it – detected by gravitational wave observatories in the U.S. and Europe.

Gravitational waves produced by the collision of binary black holes were simulated on the supercomputer at Rochester Institute of Technology. (RIT)Gravitational waves produced by the collision of binary black holes were simulated on the supercomputer at Rochester Institute of Technology. (RIT)

LIGO and the French-Italian Virgo were used to triangulate the position in the universe where the binary black hole merger occurred 1.8 billion years ago. The black holes are 25 and 31 times the mass of the sun after when a merged black hole formed.

Along with the third observatory has widened the window on the universe.

"We now can pinpoint where those black holes collided in the universe with 10 times higher precision than we had with only two detectors," said Carlos Lousto, RIT professor, "Astronomers can look more accurately toward this direction in sky with conventional telescopes to see if there is an electromagnetic counterpart to such cosmic collisions."

Johna Whelan, RTI associate professor and principal investigator of RIT’s LIGO group, said, “Our Virgo colleagues, who have been collaborating on the analysis since our first joint initial detector runs 10 years ago, have now joined the advanced detector network. We now have, for the first time, three advanced gravitational wave detectors observing together."

“With Virgo, we can now reliably point to where a gravitational wave signal came from," said Richard O’Shaughnessy, a RIT assistant professor. "We can tell astronomers when and where to point their telescopes."

By combining gravitational wave astronomy with traditional methods and using the electromagnetic spectrum, scientists will gain a deeper understanding of astrophysical phenomena.

The group of scientists was one of the first to simulate a black hole on a supercomputer. Their “moving puncture approach” has been adopted by other research groups and helped lay the foundation for the gravitational wave astronomy.

"Our supercomputer simulations of black-hole collisions continue to be crucial to determining the astrophysical parameters of those extreme objects and they provide important information for modeling their history, from the death of their progenitor stars to their final merger into a larger black hole," Lousto said.

"We perform top research integrating faculty, students, and postdocs," Campanelli said. "With RIT and National Science Foundation support, we are upgrading our supercomputer capabilities to solve Einstein equations for binary black holes."

A paper on this research will be published in Physics Review Letters.

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