Ultra-low-frequency gravitational waves that could reveal visible mysteries of the universe for the first time | Science and technology news
For the first time, extremely low-frequency gravitational waves have been observed, which could reveal secrets about the origin of the universe.
Astronomers saw them after 25 years of observing with six of the world’s most sensitive radio telescopes.
They are thought to come from pairs of supermassive black holes found at the centers of merging galaxies.
University of Manchester experts involved in the discovery said it could also contain answers about individual galaxies populating the universe – including our own Milky Way.
dr Michael Keith, an associate professor at the university’s Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics, described the results as “the beginning of a new journey into the universe to unveil some of its unsolved mysteries.”
What are gravitational waves?
They are ripples in space created when two objects orbit each other — in this case, pairs of supermassive black holes hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun.
Think of the waves almost like footprints left by the movement of stars, planets and other phenomena, which can then be examined to paint a picture of how the universe is formed.
Ultra-low frequency waves, such as those produced by supermassive black holes, have long wavelengths and extremely faint frequencies, making them difficult to detect.
That’s why it took a team of astronomers from the European Pulsar Timing Array, along with colleagues in India and Japan, a quarter of a century to observe them.
Extremely sensitive telescopes were also required – and the six telescopes used are located around the world, including in the Netherlands, Germany, India and the Jodrell Bank Center in Manchester.
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How were the waves discovered?
Astronomers and physicists observed a series of pulsars, neutron stars emitting radio waves.
Taken together, the selected pulsars – which stretched across the Milky Way – formed a galaxy-sized gravitational-wave detector powerful enough to find them at extremely low waves.
Professor Alberto Vecchio, head of astrophysics and space research at the University of Birmingham, said it represents the “gold standard in physics”.
The next step is to expand the data collected during the experiment, exploiting a set of more than 100 pulsars instead of the 25 used this time.
In addition, the number of telescopes used will be more than doubled, in the next stage there should be up to 13.