They discover a new method to find gravitational waves

They discover a new method to find gravitational waves

Since the discovery in 2016 gravitational waves for the first time, the search for new examples of this phenomenon has become more and more intense. After a century shuffling the hypothesis, scientists finally knew that they do exist. If before they were sought with determination, now this is much greater. But it is not an easy task. They are generally used radio telescopes, but these have some limitations that make it very difficult to find new gravitational waves. Now, however, an international team of scientists has published a study showing that it may be time for radio waves to be joined by gamma rays. And it is that a telescope based on the detection of this type of radiation, the fermiyou just might hold the key to breaking those awkward limitations.

This is very important, since gravitational waves are an essential tool to help us understand such impressive phenomena as merger of two black holes supermassive. In fact, these waves can be imagined as those that form when we throw a stone on the water. Studying the waves in depth can help us to better understand the stone that originated them. With gravitational waves, part of the mystery surrounding black holes can be unraveled.

It should be noted that, as these scientists explain in their study, which has just been published in Science, it would take about five years to get the technology ready. But considering that it took just a century to prove Einstein right about gravitational waves, what does just another five years mean?

What are gravitational waves?

In the center of most galaxies there is a supermassive black hole. Due to the effect of gravitation, these galaxies attract each other, until sometimes the moment arrives when they merge into one. When this happens, its two black holes move abruptly towards the center of the new single galaxy, also merging with each other, in a process that generates what is known as gravitational waves.

Today we know that they exist, since they were detected in 2016, but until then they were only a theory. A theory with a long history.

More than one hundred years of history

Albert Einstein He was the first to propose the existence of gravitational waves as such in his General Theory of Relativityin 1916. However, as he explained in 2016 to hypertextual the doctor Antonio Lopez Marotoeight years before Henri Poincare He had already stated that “planetary orbits should lose energy by emission of radiation from the gravitational field itself.” Even Pierre Simon Laplace He had pointed out something similar in 1776.

But all this was theoretical physics. Science did not yet have the tools to demonstrate the existence of gravitational wavesso it was necessary to wait a long time to see if Einstein and the others were right.

Einstein first spoke of gravitational waves as such in 1916

Life went on and physics too. Other scientists began investigations that did not have the objective of finding gravitational waves, but that in one way or another ended up leading to their discovery.

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The first great milestone in this history came in 1967, when a doctoral student named Jocelyn Bell was analyzing the signals detected by a radio telescope that she had helped build. Her goal was to search for quasars. However, she detected a few periodic signs that caught her attention, for they were unlike any other she had ever seen or read about. She told her thesis advisor, Antony Hewish, who initially pointed out that it must be some instrumental error. However, she insisted until she demonstrated that she was indeed facing something new. That was how Jocelyn Bell discovered the pulsars. A finding that, by the way, earned her thesis director the Nobel Prize, but not her.

This unfairness aside, pulsars are neutron stars that emit very intense radiation at short and regular periods. They can be used to map the universe in many different ways. And they can also help us find gravitational waves. Although to know how they do it we must travel a few years later, in 1973. Then, two other astrophysicists, Russell A. Hulse and Joseph H. TaylorThey first discovered a binary pulsar. That is, a pulsar with a companion that can be another pulsar, a white dwarf, or a neutron star. Both stars revolve around each other, but with each turn they lose energy and orbit faster and faster. This could only be because there was indeed something that was affecting what should otherwise be regular.

Since then, these modifications in the behavior of pulsars are used as a method to detect gravitational waves. For this it was formed LIGO, a scientific collaboration using data from established observatories around the world. For this purpose, radio telescopes are used, since the radiation emitted by pulsars is detected with this type of instrument. But now gamma rays might have a lot to say as well.

NASA/Fermi Telescope

Gamma rays to detect gravitational waves

After the discovery of the first gravitational wave in 2016, some more have been found, but the process is quite slow. This is partly because when radio waves travel from pulsars to Earth they run into electrons what can alter how they are finally captured by radio telescopes. Like a prism that bends visible light when it passes through it.

Electrons in the space between pulsars and Earth can mess with radio telescope readings

Therefore, an international team of scientists proposed using the Fermi telescope, from NASA, which instead of radio waves detects gamma rays. This is the most energetic form of light and has the advantage that it is not disturbed by encountering electrons on their journey through space. Therefore, it can be a great alternative. The authors of this study verified that thanks to Fermi they can also find those pulsars that serve as detectors of gravitational waves.

It is true that scientists already have a very complete map of pulsars that emit radio waves. But for now with Fermi they have already found 100. They think that just five years data collection and analysis of pulsars gamma-ray detection technology could be ready for search for gravitational waves in a much more efficient way, by eliminating the problem of distortion caused by electrons. In the meantime, conventional methods will continue to be used; but, seen what has been seen, surely the wait is worth it.