New solutions to decades-old equations could reveal information about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole. Dr. Michael Kisden, an astrophysicist at the University of Texas at Dallas, has solved equations that describe gravitational waves. This breakthrough will help advance the search for gravitational waves in the universe, enabling scientists to better understand black holes. Kesden, along with colleagues from the University of Cambridge, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Mississippi, published their research in Physical Review Letters. The work was supported in part by the UT Dallas and the National Science Foundation.
The new solutions measure the spin angular momentum (the rotation’s speed and direction) of binary black holes and a phenomenon called precession, which describes how the directions of individual types of angular momenta change over time. “With these solutions, we can create computer simulations that follow black hole evolution over billions of years,” Kesden said. “A simulation that previously would have taken years can now be done in seconds. But it’s not just faster. There are things that we can learn from these simulations that we just couldn’t learn any other way.”
Ever since Albert Einstein’s theories predicted the existence of gravitational waves, experts have been trying to detect them in the universe, but they still remain a mystery. Today several tools are used to observe the nature of the universe: optical telescopes capture images of visible objects and radio and infrared telescopes reveal additional information. Detecting gravitational waves would give scientists information about the motions of objects in the universe and allow us to observe further back into the history of the universe than ever before.
It’s possible that we will hear more about gravitational waves soon. This year one of the largest projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), aims to be the first to detect gravitational waves.