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When black holes collide: UW Bothell scientist explains new discovery in gravitational wave astronomy

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

BOTHELL, Washington – The announcement that a third collision of black holes has been detected three billion light years away validates the work of hundreds of scientists, including Joey Shapiro Key, assistant professor of physics at the University of Washington Bothell.

BHmass17(Courtesy photo)The discovery was made using a detector located at Hanford in eastern Washington and its twin in Louisiana, together known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). This new window in astronomy observes ripples in space and time, as predicted by Albert Einstein. The first two waves generated by the merger of two black holes were detected in 2015. The third, detected in January, is described in a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

UW Bothell students are working with scientists at the LIGO Hanford Observatory on data quality and contributing to searches for other gravitational wave sources, said Key, one of the authors of the paper.
“LIGO is opening up a new way to explore our universe, including populations of elusive black holes,” Key said. “This is a significant discovery of a new black hole collision, adding to our map of black hole systems and utilizing the increased sensitivity of the LIGO detectors.”

Key leads the UW Bothell LIGO Scientific Collaboration group, which includes lecturer Matt DePies and students Andrew Clark, Holly Gummelt, Paul Marsh, Jomardee Perkins and Katherine Reyes. The Seattle UW campus has its own LIGO Scientific Collaboration group made up of Professor Jens Gundlach, graduate student Michael Ross and researcher Krishna Venkateswara.

LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and operated by MIT and Caltech, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,000 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration.

LIGO partners with the Virgo Collaboration, a consortium including 280 additional scientists throughout Europe supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), and Nikhef, as well as Virgo’s host institution, the European Gravitational Observatory. Additional partners are listed at: http://ligo.org/partners.php

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