NASA | JPL-Caltech | 2017 Nov 13
One of the most spectacular achievements in physics so far this century has been the observation of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time that result from masses accelerating in space. So far, there have been five detections of gravitational waves, thanks to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and, more recently, the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector. Using these facilities, scientists have been able to pin down the extremely subtle signals from relatively small black holes and, as of October, neutron stars.
But there are merging objects far larger whose gravitational wave signals have not yet been detected: supermassive black holes, more than 100 million times more massive than our Sun. Most large galaxies have a central supermassive black hole. When galaxies collide, their central black holes tend to spiral toward each other, releasing gravitational waves in their cosmic dance. Much as a large animal like a lion produces a deeper roar than a tiny mouse's squeak, merging supermassive black holes create lower-frequency gravitational waves than the relatively small black holes LIGO and similar ground-based experiments can detect. ...
To explore this uncharted area of gravitational wave science, researchers look not to human-made machines, but to a natural experiment in the sky called a pulsar timing array. Pulsars are dense remnants of dead stars that regularly emit beams of radio waves, which is why some call them "cosmic lighthouses." Because their rapid pulse of radio emission is so predictable, a large array of well-understood pulsars can be used to measure extremely subtle abnormalities, such as gravitational waves. The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), a Physics Frontier Center of the National Science Foundation, is one of the leading groups of researchers using pulsars to search for gravitational waves. ...
The Local Nanohertz Gravitational-Wave Landscape From Supermassive Black Hole Binaries - Chiara M. F. Mingarelli et al
- Nature Astronomy (online 13 Nov 2017) DOI: 10.1038/s41550-017-0299-6
arXiv.org > astro-ph > arXiv:1708.03491 > 11 Aug 2017