Astronomers pinpoint origin of gravity wave signal, map black hole collision

Sept. 27 (UPI) — For the first time, astronomers have combined data from the Virgo and LIGO gravitational wave detections systems. Researchers used the data to triangulate the origins of a gravitational wave signal.

The signal was picked on August 14 by the two LIGO detectors in Louisiana and Washington, as well as by the Virgo detecter near Pisa, Italy.

Using data collected by the two gravitational wave detection systems, scientists determined that the gravity wave signal was produced by a black-hole merger 1.8 billion light-years from Earth. Before joining forces, the two black holes were 25 and 31 times the mass of the sun.

Scientists described their plotting of the black-hole merger in a new paper, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“We now can pinpoint where those black holes collided in the universe with 10 times higher precision than we had with only two detectors,” Carlos Lousto, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in a news release. “Astronomers can look more accurately toward this direction in sky with conventional telescopes to see if there is an electromagnetic counterpart to such cosmic collisions.”

With three detectors — one on each side of the United States and a third in Europe — astronomers can more readily pinpoint where gravity waves are originating from. So far, astronomers have only traced gravity waves to faraway galaxies, but scientists believe the phenomena could also originate from within the Milky Way.

“We can tell astronomers when and where to point their telescopes,” said Richard O’Shaughnessy, an assistant professor at RIT.

By combining the latest observations from gravitational wave detectors with data from traditional electromagnetic observatories, researchers expect to gain new insights into the nature of black-hole mergers and other relativistic phenomena.

“Our supercomputer simulations of black-hole collisions continue to be crucial to determine the astrophysical parameters of those extreme objects and they provide important information for modeling their history, from the death of their progenitor stars to their final merger into a larger black hole,” Lousto said.