Gravitational waves discovered

Gravitational waves discovered

14 September 2015

A scientific breakthrough

Monash researchers support LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) in one of the greatest human scientific achievements of all time: the detection of gravitational waves generated by two colliding black holes nearly 1.3 billion light years away.

The event will go down as the world’s first ever observation of gravitational waves and the first direct detection of black holes. The Monash team played an important role in the design and implementation of key hardware and software components associated with the detection and interpretation of gravitational wave GW150914 on 14 September 2015.

They created a system of vetting detections – injecting fake gravitational waves into the detector. By showing that they could recover the fake signal, it enabled the team to verify a genuine gravitational wave.

The team played a key role in data analysis; observing and interpreting data generated by LIGO’s detectors in Louisiana and Washington, USA, and were also instrumental in the design of the LIGO mirrors to control their behaviour in extreme conditions and thereby significantly increase LIGOs sensitivity to faint gravitational waves.

Monash lecturer Dr Eric Thrane described the discovery of gravitational wave GW150914 as monumental. “This is a watershed moment in the history of astronomy. LIGO's detection represents a whole new way of doing astronomy that can unlock the secrets of the universe. It has been a privilege to work with the international LIGO collaboration toward this discovery.”

However, he described this first discovery as just the tip of the iceberg. “The discovery of this gravitational wave suggests that merging black holes are heavier and more numerous than many researchers previously believed. This bodes well for detection of large populations of distant black holes – research carried out by our team at Monash University. It will be intriguing to see what other sources of gravitational waves are out there, waiting to be discovered.”