Black hole boffins close in on gravity waves

Peering at pulsars produces promising pulling premise


While the world looks for ways to directly observe gravity waves, boffins at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) say they've used information about the Einsteinian prediction to examine huge black holes in space.

In what they call a “new chapter in astronomy”, post-doctoral CSIRO fellow Dr Ryan Shannon and PhD student Vikram Ravi believe they've worked out the likely – and low – rate of background gravitational waves in the universe.

They've done this by examining data from the Parkes radio-telescope's PPTA (Parkes Pulsar Timing Array) project which, along with a previous CSIRO-Swinburne University collaboration provides 20 years' worth of pulsar timing data.

The timing of pulsar signals is extremely precise, the researchers say, but as a gravitational wave passes the pulsar's region, it would swell or shrink distances in that region, changing the timing of the pulse from Earth's point of view.

“The strength of the gravitational wave background depends on how often supermassive black holes spiral together and merge, how massive they are, and how far away they are. So if the background is low, that puts a limit on one or more of those factors,” CSIRO says in its media release.

As a result, the group believes one model used to explain supermassive black holes, galactic merger, should be discarded because it doesn't explain enough of the mass of black holes. The timing data will next be used to test other models of supermassive black hole growth.

Project leader, CSIRO's Dr George Hobbs, believes the timing data will one day allow direct detection of gravitational waves. “We haven't yet detected gravitational waves outright, but we're now into the right ballpark to do so,” he says.

He explained that combining pulsar-timing data from Parkes with that from other telescopes in Europe and the USA — a total of about 50 pulsars — should provide enough accuracy to detect gravitational waves “within ten years”.

The CSIRO video below illustrates spinning black holes generating gravitational waves. ®

Watch Video

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • NASA's SOFIA aircraft preps for final flights ahead of mission end
    With operations deadline in September, team eager to squeeze more data out of infrared observatory

    The SOFIA aircraft has returned to New Zealand for a final time ahead of the mission's conclusion later this year.

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, designed to carry a 2.7-meter reflecting telescope into the stratosphere, above much of Earth's infrared-blocking atmosphere.

    A collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), development began on the project in 1996. SOFIA saw first light in 2010 and achieved full operational capability in 2014. Its prime mission was completed in 2019 and earlier this year, it was decided that SOFIA would be grounded for budgetary reasons. Operations end "no later than" September 30, 2022, followed by an "orderly shutdown."

    Continue reading
  • Photonic processor can classify millions of images faster than you can blink
    We ask again: Has science gone too far?

    Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania say they've developed a photonic deep neural network processor capable of analyzing billions of images every second with high accuracy using the power of light.

    It might sound like science fiction or some optical engineer's fever dream, but that's exactly what researchers at the American university's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences claim to have done in an article published in the journal Nature earlier this month.

    The standalone light-driven chip – this isn't another PCIe accelerator or coprocessor – handles data by simulating brain neurons that have been trained to recognize specific patterns. This is useful for a variety of applications including object detection, facial recognition, and audio transcription to name just a few.

    Continue reading
  • World’s smallest remote-controlled robots are smaller than a flea
    So small, you can't feel it crawl

    Video Robot boffins have revealed they've created a half-millimeter wide remote-controlled walking robot that resembles a crab, and hope it will one day perform tasks in tiny crevices.

    In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics , the boffins said they had in mind applications like minimally invasive surgery or manipulation of cells or tissue in biological research.

    With a round tick-like body and 10 protruding legs, the smaller-than-a-flea robot crab can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The machines can move at an average speed of half their body length per second - a huge challenge at such a small scale, said the boffins.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022