The direct detection of gravitational waves, tiny oscillations of the curvature of space-time that were predicted 100 years ago by Einstein's theory of General Relativity, was a groundbreaking event for gravitational physics. On September 14, 2015, The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made the first direct detection of gravitational waves, which in this case were produced by the collision of two black holes nearly 1.4 billion light years away from Earth. Since then, several more black hole collisions have been detected by LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo. Then, on August 17, 2017 LIGO and Virgo detected a new type of signal, from the coalescence of two neutron stars, in coincidence with a gamma ray burst. Over 70 observatories have participated in following up this detection in almost every possible electromagnetic wavelength, and a richness of information is now available on this unique event. The era of gravitational-wave enabled, multi-messenger astronomy has officially begun. This award supports critical LIGO research at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for the detection, characterization and astrophysical interpretation of gravitational wave transient signals in LIGO data, at a new frontier in science that aims a deeper understanding of the universe. The award will benefit from the long term collaboration of the PI and co-PI and a synergistic team at the Georgia Tech Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, with experts in computational astrophysics, cosmology, particle astrophysics, astronomy, the college of computing and a strong outreach program in Atlanta, enhanced by the new ties to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, and a firm commitment to diversity and the role of women in STEM.
The award supports an active LIGO group at Georgia Tech, with work on two topics of critical importance to the LIGO mission: 1) Participation in the LSC-Virgo Burst all-sky, morphology-independent search for gravitational transients, sensitive to a wide range of signatures, including core-collapse supernovae, coalescence of neutron star and/or black hole binary systems and neutron star oscillations, including characterization of LIGO data to enable scientific discovery, to deliver the data quality information necessary to clean the data sets and veto false positives, and to identify data quality issues early enough that they can be mitigated in the instruments. 2) Integration of generic analytical and numerical relativity waveforms in searches and interpretations of signals from a variety of astrophysical sources, especially in those sources where the strong field of gravity is at its peak and information provided by numerical relativity is at its most influential, such as intermediate mass black hole mergers, follow-up simulations of exotic sources, and consistency tests of waveform models. With this award, the Georgia Tech group will contribute to core science of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), capitalizing on existing resources and expertise, and enabling advanced LIGO science of highest priority while stimulating intellectual curiosity and exploring novel approaches.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.