Newswise) Researchers at the University of Birmingham have discovered that new methods of detecting ultralow frequency gravitational wave can be combined with less sensitive measurements to provide fresh insight into the early stages of the universe’s development.
Gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of Einstein’s spacetime – that cross the universe at the speed of light have all sorts of wavelengths, or frequencies. Although scientists have yet to find gravitational waves at very low frequencies (‘nanohertz), new methods are being developed and will confirm these signals soon.
The main method to detect gravitational wave using radio telescopes is to use pulsars, exotic dead stars that emit radio waves with remarkable regularity. For example, researchers at the NANOGrav Collaboration use pulsars in order to precisely time the rotation periods of an array of millisecond-pulsars. This network or array is astronomers’ best guess of a network with perfect clocks spread throughout the galaxy. These can be used for measuring fractional changes in gravitational waves’ propagation through the universe.
The question of the source of these signals is still unanswered. The Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Birmingham argues that it is extremely difficult to find an answer using data only from pulsar timing arrangements (PTAs).
They instead suggested that the new data and observations from other projects, such as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission will allow for the disentanglement of signals that have remained since the beginning of the universe. The main explanation for ultra-low frequency gravityal waves is that they’re caused by supermassive black hole populations at the centres of merging galaxies. When galaxies combine, the central black holes form binaries, which generate gravitational waves. This would allow us to explore the astrophysics behind the growth and assembly of galaxies by using PTA.
But, there are many other possibilities. The story of our infant universe could be told by nanohertz gravitational wave signals, long before the formation of black holes and galaxies. It has been suggested that very low frequency gravitational waves could be generated by other processes shortly after the big bang. For example, if the Universe went through what physicists call a phase transition at the right temperature. Dr Christopher Moore,
Lead author said that the first tentative hints for a gravitational signal using pulsar Timing Arrays may have been detected by NANOGrav recently. We expect the next few decades to be a golden era in this kind of science. These signals are fascinating, but can also be confusing. It is difficult to distinguish between the various sources. Currently, this is extremely difficult to do with pulsar timing array data alone.”
Co-author Professor Alberto Vecchio said: “Pulsar timing arrays may offer unprecedented insights into ancient cosmological processes. These insights can be used to help us understand the origins and evolution of our universe .”
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