Alliance researchers lead global project to capture gravitational wave flashes

The first detection of gravitational waves in September 2015 excited the scientific and mainstream community alike. Gravitational waves provide valuable information about our universe, and confirmation of their existence has created new research possibilities.

It is predicted that some gravitational wave events may be accompanied by flashes of visible light. In the search for this visual component are Dr Duncan Galloway of Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Dr Danny Steeghs of the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics.

Dr Galloway and Dr Steeghs are principal investigators in the Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) Project, which also involves partners from Armagh Observatory, the University of Sheffield and the University of Leicester. The first stage of this project, the construction of multiple wide-field telescopes on a single mount, is underway at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on the Spanish island of La Palma.

Dr Galloway said the ability to detect the visible counterpart to gravitational waves would provide more information about the gravitational wave sources, and potentially lead to new discoveries.

“Detecting visible light from a gravitational wave event would vastly improve the location information, and likely allow identification of the host galaxy, and hence the distance,” Dr Galloway said.

“At the same time, when we’re not hunting for gravitational-wave sources, we’ll be scanning the sky and detecting lots of other types of transient sources, such as supernovae.”

Dr Steeghs said the Monash Warwick Alliance’s early support of the GOTO Project as an Alliance Major Initiative, gave it a firm, international base from which to attract additional partners and resources.

“Monash and Warwick have complementary strengths, particularly in physics and astronomy. This is an important project that has relevance not only to the scientific community, but to the broader public,” Dr Steeghs said.

Future stages of the project will expand on the number of mounted telescopes, and may also involve the construction of telescopes in other parts of the world.

The Monash Warwick Alliance is an award-winning partnership between Monash University and the University of Warwick. Recognised as a leader in global education, the Alliance combines the exceptional teaching and research capabilities of two world-class universities to meet the challenges of the 21st century.