NANOGrav/T. Klein
Surf's Up

New Technique Uses Entire Milky Way as a Giant Observatory

byDan Robitzski
Jan 12
NANOGrav/T. Klein

It's big. Really big.

Zooming Out

A team of scientists is taking an unusual approach to finding a new kind of gravitational wave they think is constantly washing over the Earth: using a clever trick to turn the entire galaxy into a giant observatory.

The team, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is using the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) to hunt for gravitational waves that are too massive and slow to spot with Earthly observatories like LIGO. They haven’t found them yet, but research published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters suggests that the galaxy-sized observatory is getting close.

Background Noise

In recent years, scientists have been able to record and study the gravitational waves that ripple out from cosmic events like black hole mergers. But experts believe that there are bigger and larger gravitational waves out there that constantly flow past Earth like cosmic background noise. And that’s what the NANOGrav team is after.

“We’ve found a strong signal in our dataset,” lead author and Colorado astrophysicist Joseph Simon said in a press release. “But we can’t say yet that this is the gravitational wave background.”

Advertisement

Galactic Lighthouses

The galaxy-sized observatory is really a series of observatories on Earth trained on a network of 45 pulsars spread throughout the Milky Way. These pulsars, which are compact neutron stars that spin extremely rapidly, will rotate faster or slower if perturbed by a massive wave — like the background gravitational radiation. By tracking those slight, fraction-of-a-second variations in their spin, the NANOGrav team can treat them like cosmic lighthouses that spot massive, incredibly slow-moving waves.

“Other observatories search for gravitational waves that are on the order of seconds,” Simon said. “We’re looking for waves that are on the order of years or decades.”

READ MORE: ‘Galaxy-sized’ observatory sees potential hints of gravitational waves [University of Colorado at Boulder]

More on gravitational waves: Black Holes “Chirp” Repeatedly When They Merge

Advertisement


As a Futurism reader, we invite you join the Singularity Global Community, our parent company’s forum to discuss futuristic science & technology with like-minded people from all over the world. It’s free to join, sign up now!

Share This Article

Copyright ©, Singularity Education Group All Rights Reserved. See our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Futurism. Fonts by Typekit and Monotype.