The Gravitational Wave Universe


Joey Shapiro Key, Research Assistant Professor
University of Texas at Brownsville


Gravitational wave astronomy will open a new window to understanding our universe by catching elusive gravitational wave signals from black holes, binary stars, and supernova.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) project to detect gravitational waves here on Earth is known as LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory.  Together with a network of detectors across the globe Advanced LIGO is likely to make gravitational wave detections starting in 2016-17.  This will usher in the era of gravitational wave astronomy, revealing hidden sources and answering questions about the nature of the universe through an entirely new messenger.  NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have plans to build a gravitational wave detector in space in the next few decades that will complement the Earth based detectors as well as the pulsar timing arrays currently building up the accuracy and sensitivity to detect gravitational waves from the early universe.  These new gravitational wave observatories will enable multi-messenger astronomy, using both light and gravitational waves to study the universe and answer fundamental questions about our place in space.  We live in an exciting time for astronomy!


I work on gravitational wave data analysis, using computers to find the hidden signals in the data from gravitational wave detectors.  Gravitational wave data analysis is a collaborative activity, with scientists all over the world working together to find new, better, and faster ways to identify gravitational wave signals in the noisy data from our detectors.


The gravitational wave data analysis problem can be solved through template matching and burst analysis techniques.  We continue to improve and refine our analysis pipelines.  The measurement of the physical parameters of the systems creating gravitational waves is enabled through the use of Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques.  Once we have identified a gravitational wave signal we need to be able to say how well we can measure the source parameters including the location, masses, and spins of the black holes or stars.  Parameter estimation is also a collaborative activity with many scientists working to perfect our analysis.

We eagerly await the first observing run of the Advanced LIGO detectors as well as the continued improvement of the pulsar timing arrays and the effort to launch a gravitational wave detector into space.  We expect to make routine detections of gravitational waves with this new generation of detectors.  The data analysis efforts and parameter estimation will begin to answer questions we have about the populations of black holes, neutron stars, white dwarf stars, and other exotic objects in the universe.


gravitational waves, black hole

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