Everyone pretty much knows that black holes are not easy to find and detect, but what about when two black holes collide? The good news is that this collision was detected by three different observatories located in two continents.
More specifically, these observatories came from Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. And it was also detected from an observatory in Europe near Pisa, Italy at the Virgo detector.
In August, detectors on two continents recorded gravitational wave signals from a pair of black holes colliding. This discovery, announced today, is the first observation of gravitational waves by three different detectors, marking a new era of greater insights and improved localization of cosmic events now available through globally networked gravitational-wave observatories.
The collision was observed Aug. 14 at 10:30:43 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) using the two National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, and the Virgo detector, funded by CNRS and INFN and located near Pisa, Italy.
The joint detection was considered to be milestone in an effort to “unlock the mysteries of the universe.” This was the first discovery of its kind made in a partnership.
Here are some of the details of the waves:
The detected gravitational waves — ripples in space and time — were emitted during the final moments of the merger of two black holes, one with a mass about 31 times that of our sun, the other about 25 times the mass of the sun. The event, located about 1.8 billion light-years away resulted in a spinning black hole with about 53 times the mass of our sun — that means about three solar masses were converted into gravitational-wave energy during the coalescence.
“This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together,” says LSC spokesperson David Shoemaker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “With the next observing run planned for fall 2018, we can expect such detections weekly or even more often.”
These observatories are very high tech and are already beginning to pay dividends in research. As described by many scientists, this is the first of many discoveries that is expected.
LIGO has transitioned into a second-generation gravitational-wave detector, known as Advanced LIGO, that consists of two identical interferometers. Beginning operations in September 2015, Advanced LIGO has conducted two observing runs. The second observing run, “O2,” began Nov. 30, 2016, and ended Aug. 25, 2017.
The Virgo detector, also now a second-generation detector, joined the O2 run Aug. 1, 2017 at 10 a.m. UTC. The real-time detection Aug. 14 was triggered with data from all three LIGO and Virgo instruments.
“It is wonderful to see a first gravitational-wave signal in our brand new Advanced Virgo detector only two weeks after it officially started taking data,” says Jo van den Brand of Nikhef and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, spokesperson of the Virgo collaboration. “That’s a great reward after all the work done in the Advanced Virgo project to upgrade the instrument over the past six years.”
When an event is detected by a three-detector network, the area in the sky likely to contain the source shrinks significantly, improving distance accuracy. The sky region for GW170814 has a size of only 60 square degrees, more than 10 times smaller than the size using data available from the two LIGO interferometers alone.