Gravitational waves—looking further

The brainpower of 18 institutions and more than $30 million are expanding the net to detect gravitational waves—disturbances in the fabric of spacetime—and cement Australia’s role in the emerging field.

Gravitational waves have captivated the world since their first detection by the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2016.

Australian scientists played important roles, including developing coatings and polishing techniques for the 40kg mirrors (which reflect high-power lasers), creating sensors to measure and correct the mirrors’ distortion, and building a mini-LIGO experiment to study the instability the lasers cause in the mirrors.

Now, OzGrav (the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery) will be interpreting data from LIGO as well as concentrating on types of signals that LIGO isn’t ‘tuned’ to detect. These include ripples with longer wavelengths (produced by burnt out stars), and the death-cries of supermassive black holes.

Swinburne University of Technology’s Professor Matthew Bailes leads OzGrav, and many of its chief investigators supported the original discovery. 

They’ll also help validate the prototype pulsar processors developed at Swinburne for the giant Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

And Swinburne’s Professor Jarrod Hurley is designing a $3.5 million supercomputer for the centre to run simulations and process observational data.

“It would be fantastic to think that we might discover new sources of gravitational waves right here on campus,” Jarrod says.

OzGrav is a partnership between Swinburne, the Australian National University, Monash University, University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, and University of Western Australia, along with 10 overseas groups and other collaborating organisations in Australia.

Banner image credit: Swinburne University of Technology