Artist's conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet)
Astronomers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have discovered another set of gravitational waves. These waves are ripples in space and time that can be 'heard' throughout the universe. However, what's unique with this finding is that three observatories detected the waves.
The waves are caused by two black holes that merged roughly 1.7 billion light-years away. They have a mass of 30.5 and 25.3 times the mass of the Sun, according to the full report published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
LIGO is operated jointly by researchers from MIT and Caltech. The LIGO team partnered with its European counterpart VIRGO. The discovery marks the first for Virgo after the system underwent major improvements last month. It's also the fourth for the LIGO observatories. However, it's the first time that three observatories (LIGO runs two locations) have spotted the same waves.
"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," said Jo van den Brand of Nikhef and VU University 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."
This new research could be the start of understanding some of the final works of Albert Einstein
Einstein's early theories (first presented in the early 1900s) combined space and time in one continuum -- "space-time." The physicists proposed that objects warp both space and time around them. Their movements create ripples in space-time just like boats on water. To better understand the impact of gravitational waves on the universe, check out this animated explanation from MminutePhysics below:
Both teams finding the waves means that it's possible for other astronomers to find the source of the waves with other telescopes.
"We’ve entered a new phase of astronomy with Virgo joining, called multi-messenger astronomy," Bangalore Sathyaprakash, a physicist at Penn State and Cardiff University and part of the LIGO collaboration, told The Verge. "It is really giving a new direction to our colleagues."
Having three major observatories spot the waves meant scientists can pinpoint where the signal originates. This will also lead to plenty of further observations. LIGO started detecting these waves over a year and a half ago with its two observatories -- one in Washington State and the other in Louisiana.
"This is just the beginning of observations with the network-enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together," said David Shoemaker of MIT, LSC spokesperson. "With the next observing run planned for Fall 2018 we can expect such detections weekly or even more often."
France Cordova, the National Science Foundation director, said that he has high hopes for further discoveries.
"We are delighted to announce the first discovery made in partnership between the Virgo Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the first time a gravitational-wave detection was observed by these observatories, located thousands of miles apart," he said in a statement. "This is an exciting milestone in the growing international scientific effort to unlock the extraordinary mysteries of our Universe."