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UMD Physicists Contribute to More Gravitational Wave Observations

By Maryland Today Staff

Scientists in College Park announced four new observations of gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space-time—from the final moments of black hole mergers. University of Maryland physicists are among those who have contributed to identifying a total of 10 such mergers and one neutron star merger over a two-year span.

The twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors—in Louisiana and the state of Washington—and the Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy observed the gravitational wave events. The Virgo Collaboration and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) announced the discoveries Saturday at a workshop hosted by the Joint Space-Science Institute, a partnership between UMD and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“These results mark an evolution in the way we are thinking about binary black hole mergers detected by LIGO and Virgo,” said Peter Shawhan, a UMD professor of physics and an LSC principal investigator who serves as its data analysis committee chair. “While we carefully determine the properties of the individual events, such as the masses and spins of the black holes, we are also looking at the big picture: the distribution of these properties and what that can tell us about how massive stars live and die.”

The first detection of gravitational waves, on Sept. 14, 2015, was a milestone in physics and astronomy. It confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and marked the beginning of the new field of gravitational wave astronomy.

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