Detectors uncover fourth gravitational wave

For the fourth time in history, astronomers have used advanced technology to detect and measure a gravitational wave.
By Joseph Scalise | Oct 02, 2017
A new type of telescope has allowed astronomers to detect the fourth gravitational wave in the past two years, according to a new announcement made by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

Gravitational waves are an important phenomena that allow scientists to observe black holes. Normally, as they are so dark, the dense bodies are hidden from view. This is because they emit gravitational waves instead of light. However, by detecting the waves the black holes push out, researchers can estimate their location and size.

Astronomers detected the most recent wave by using two U.S. LIGO gravitational wave detectors as well as a European detector -- known as Virgo -- that sits near Pisa, Italy.

"It is wonderful to see a first gravitational-wave signal in our brand new Advanced Virgo detector only two weeks after it officially started taking data," said Jo van den Brand, a spokesman for the Virgo collaboration, according to The Boston Globe.

The waves looked at in the study collided 1.8 billion light years away from Earth. One measured 31 times the mass of the sun, while the other was 25 times the sun's mass. The two phenomena combined to create a black hole 53 times the mass of the sun that spins at a faster rate than most known holes.

This new observation is important because it gives astronomers a clear look at the geometry of gravitational waves. Normally, scientists can only decide the shape, size, and location of waves with limited precision. It is not easy to detect such distant events, and most data collected on them is in the form of rough estimates.

However, the new observatory in Italy allowed them to record some of the most precise gravitational wave measurements to date. This is because the station is aligned differently than the LIGO detectors in the United States, giving researchers a brand new perspective.

"This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together," said David Shoemaker, a research scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a spokesman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, in a statement. "With the next observing run planned for Fall 2018, we can expect such detections weekly or even more often."

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