Researchers Detect Gravitational Waves at Record-Low Frequencies

Gravitational Waves at Record-Low Frequencies

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Physicists Uncover Gravitational Waves with Potential to Unlock Black Hole Merger Secrets

A groundbreaking method developed by a team of physicists promises to unveil the mysteries surrounding the early mergers of supermassive black holes by detecting gravitational waves at unprecedentedly low frequencies.

This innovative technique enables the detection of gravitational waves oscillating approximately once every thousand years, marking a significant advancement as it is 100 times slower than previously measured gravitational waves.

According to Jeff Dror, PhD, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Florida and co-author of the study, “These are waves reaching us from the farthest corners of the Universe, capable of affecting how light travels.” He added, “Studying these waves from the early Universe will help us build a complete picture of our cosmic history, analogous to previous discoveries of the cosmic microwave background.”

Gravitational waves, akin to ripples in space, vary in frequency and amplitude, providing valuable insights into their origin and age. These waves can oscillate at extremely low frequencies, far below the range of sound waves detectable by the human ear. Previously, the lowest frequencies detected were as low as one nanohertz.

The team’s pioneering method revolves around analyzing pulsars – neutron stars emitting radio waves at remarkably regular intervals. By scrutinizing a gradual slowdown in the pulses’ arrivals, the researchers could unveil new gravitational waves. Leveraging existing pulsar data, the team extended the hearing range to frequencies as low as ten picohertz, a significant leap from previous efforts detecting nanohertz-level waves.

While gravitational waves with low frequencies have been detected previously, their origin remains enigmatic, with two prevailing theories. The first theory posits that these waves stem from the merger of two supermassive black holes, offering researchers a fresh perspective on studying the Universe’s heaviest objects. Alternatively, these waves might have been generated by a cataclysmic event in the early Universe’s history.

Moving forward, the team plans to analyze newer datasets, primarily from 2014 and 2015, as well as conduct simulations on mock data using UF’s HiPerGator supercomputer. By harnessing advanced computational power, they aim to expedite data analysis and gain deeper insights into the origin and implications of low-frequency gravitational waves.

Supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, this study represents a significant step forward in our quest to understand the fundamental workings of the cosmos.