A/Professor Tara Murphy responds to discovery of gravitational waves

12 February 2016

Associate Professor Tara Murphy, from the School of Physics, is featured in The Conversation as part of an expert panel responding to the discovery of gravitational waves.

In addition to binary black holes, aLIGO will detect gravitational waves from other events such as the collision of neutron stars, which are the dense remnants left over when a massive stars collapse.

Astronomers think that two neutron stars colliding may trigger a gamma-ray burst, which we can detect with "regular" telescopes.

In Australia, we have been using the Murchison Widefield Array and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder to follow-up aLIGO candidates.

aLIGO is an incredibly sensitive instrument but it has very poor ability to determine where the gravitational waves are coming from. Our radio telescopes can scan large areas of sky extremely quickly, so can play a critical part in identifying the event.

This project has been like no other one I have worked on. When aLIGO identifies a candidate, it sends out a private alert to an international network of astronomers. We respond as quickly as possible with our telescopes, scanning the region the event is thought to have occurred in, to see if we can detect any electromagnetic radiation.

Everything is kept top secret - even the other people using our telescopes are not allowed to know where we are pointing them.

To make sure their complex processing pipeline was working correctly, someone in the aLIGO team inserted fake events into the process. Nobody on the team, or those of us doing follow-up, had any idea whether what we were responding to was real or one of these fake events.

We are truly in an era of big science. This incredible result has been the work of not only hundreds of aLIGO researchers and engineers, but hundreds more astronomers collaborating around the globe. We are eagerly awaiting the next aLIGO observing run, to see what else we can find.

Read the full article at The Conversation.

Contact: Vivienne Reiner

Phone: +61 2 9351 2390

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