Nov 9, 2021 - Science

Researchers catch a glut of gravitational waves

Gif of a magnifying glass focusing on a black hole.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Researchers detected 35 new gravitational wave signals sent out by some of the most extreme crashes between massive objects in the universe over the course of four months.

Why it matters: These gravitational wave signals allow scientists to learn more about how massive objects like black holes and neutron stars that warp the fabric of the universe work and interact with one another.

What's happening: The 35 new detections — announced Monday — were made between November 2019 and March 2020 by LIGO and Virgo, gravitational wave detectors in the U.S. and Italy.

  • Among those 35 detections, scientists found signals from the mergers of black holes and neutron stars, and a pair of black holes that, combined, are only 17 times more massive than the Sun, among others.
  • "Looking at the masses and spins of the black holes in these binary systems indicates how these systems got together in the first place," Susan Scott of the Australian National University Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics, said in a statement.
  • "It also raises some really fascinating questions. For example, did the system originally form with two stars that went through their life cycles together and eventually became black holes? Or were the two black holes thrust together in a very dense dynamical environment such as at the centre of a galaxy?"

How it works: When a gravitational wave passes through Earth's part of space, it stretches and warps the fabric of space and time just slightly.

  • Extremely sensitive detectors like LIGO can pick up on that warping using lasers and mirrors that allow scientists to detect the moment these ripples pass through our part of space.

Go deeper: A whole new view of the universe

Go deeper