This award supports research in relativity and relativistic astrophysics and it addresses the priority areas of NSF's "Windows on the Universe" Big Idea. NSF's LIGO observatories are providing a remarkable new window on the universe by detecting gravitational waves from rare but powerful events. The LIGO observatories have now detected dozens of cases in which two black holes, each many times more massive than our Sun, spiral around each other and merge into a single black hole. This project will support and improve data analysis to enlarge the catalog of such events using data from LIGO's current and next observing runs, revealing the life histories of heavy stars and how they trace the evolution of galaxies and structure. In addition, LIGO has detected two mergers of neutron stars so far. The first, named GW170817, was accompanied by a gamma-ray burst followed by visible-light, ultraviolet and infrared emissions, and an X-ray and radio afterglow. The combined "multi-messenger" observations have provided crucial data for neutron-star astrophysics and have tested models for the expansion of the universe and the formation of elements heavier than iron. This project will maintain and improve the methods used to detect neutron-star mergers and to quickly communicate information about them to other astronomers and to the public, enabling new discoveries like GW170817 and extending multi-messenger astrophysics farther into the universe using new data. Many searches for other kinds of gravitational-wave signals are also being carried out, and this project will support the coordination and timely publication of those results. The project will also provide training for scientists at the graduate level and STEM skill development experiences for secondary-school students, including informal education initiatives at the University of Maryland which serve school-age children, in particular a Physics Electronics Camp for rising 9th graders.
This project addresses specific needs of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) and its collaborative work with Virgo and KAGRA, as well as with the astronomy community. The PI will coordinate the completion and publication of LSC-Virgo observational results from the O3 run and support publication planning for the O4 run, maintaining LSC-Virgo's internal PubPlan system. A graduate student supported by this award will analyze data from the second half of the O3 run using the PyCBC toolkit to contribute to the final catalog of binary merger events from O3, and will similarly contribute to the detection and publication of binary merger events in the next observing run, O4. The PI will initiate and guide an LSC-Virgo-KAGRA process to establish policies and a new science-motivated framework for the content of public alerts in O4. The PI and students will work to implement necessary improvements in the low-latency candidate selection and public alert systems to make them faster, more flexible, smarter (with multi-trigger consistency checks), and more robust. A graduate student will help to adapt and tune the PyCBC Live low-latency search pipeline for the O4 run, incorporating KAGRA together with the LIGO and Virgo detectors.
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.