Astronomers receive gravitational wave warnings within 30 seconds

Any event in the universe creates gravitational waves, the bigger the event, the more disturbance. Colliding events between black holes and neutron stars can send waves that can be detected on Earth. A phenomenon in visible light is likely when neutron stars collide, so early warning is essential to take advantage of every opportunity. Teams at the LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA observatories are working on a warning system that alerts astronomers within 30 seconds of a gravitational wave event. If enough precautions are taken, the source can be identified and the after-glow can be seen.

The fabric of space-time can be thought of as a giant celestial ocean. Any movement in the ocean creates waves. The same applies to movements and disturbances in space, causing compression in one direction while stretching vertically. Modern gravitational wave detectors are typically L-shaped with beams illuminating each arm of the building. The two beams are connected and the interference patterns are examined allowing for accurate calculation of the lengths of the two beams. Any change indicates the passing of a gravitational wave.

LIGO Laboratory

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a study that attempted to improve the detection of waves. Not only will they improve detection, but they will also establish an alert mechanism so that astronomers receive a notification within 30 seconds of event detection.

The team used data from previous observations and created simulated gravitational wave signal data so they could test the system. But it is much more than a warning system. Once fully operational, it can detect the pattern of signals, track how it evolves over time, and provide an estimate of the properties of the individual components that led to the waves.

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After it's fully operational, the software detects waves from neutron star or black hole collisions. The former is too faint to detect unless its location is precisely known. This will generate a warning from the wave that will help pinpoint the location allowing for a follow-up probe.

Light bursts from the collision of two neutron stars. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Laboratory

There are still many questions about neutron star and black hole formation

graThe LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) has completed its latest run, but the next one is due in February 2025. Between recent monitoring runs, improvements and enhancements have been made to improve the ability to detect signals. Eventually of course it will come down to the data and once the current run is over, teams will start.

Source: Researchers detect gravitational waves early enough to study collisions between neutron stars and black holes

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