Scientists hunting for gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space and time sent out by cataclysmic collisions — have had a busy month.

The impact: The LIGO and Virgo observatories tasked with detecting these waves began their newest observing run on April 1, and they've already found evidence of 5 possible gravitational wave signals. The observatories are 40% more sensitive following upgrades made since the last observing run ended.

The big question: By detecting these gravitational waves on Earth, scientists can work backward to find out more about what created those ripples, giving us new insights into some of the most extreme objects in the universe.

“The entire astrophysics community is very excited that we’ve already seen 5 candidate events in four weeks.”
LIGO astrophysicist Jess McIver said during a press conference Thursday

Details: Three of the gravitational wave signals are thought to be from two merging black holes, with the fourth believed to have been emitted by colliding neutron stars. The fifth, and perhaps most exciting, seems to be from the merger of a black hole and a neutron star.

  • If confirmed, this will mark the first neutron star-black hole merger ever documented.

All five signals still need to be confirmed through follow-up analysis.

How it works: LIGO and Virgo are able to detect these gravitational waves through very precise instrumentation. When a gravitational wave passes through Earth’s part of space, every atom warps ever so slightly.

  • A laser runs down the arms of LIGO and Virgo’s three L-shaped detectors. Once the laser hits the end of the detector, a mirror bounces the light back to the middle.
  • If no gravitational wave has passed through, the beams of light should arrive back at the bend in the L at the same time, but if there’s a mismatch, a gravitational wave may have been observed.

What’s next: Unlike earlier observing campaigns, the two observatories have started releasing their detections in real time, allowing other observatories to make follow-up observations.

Go deeper

Updated 55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:15 p.m. ET: 21,261,598 — Total deaths: 767,054— Total recoveries: 13,284,647Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:15 p.m. ET: 5,324,930 — Total deaths: 168,703 — Total recoveries: 1,796,326 — Total tests: 65,676,624Map.
  3. Health: The coronavirus-connected heart ailment that could lead to sudden death in athletes — Patients grow more open with their health data during pandemic.
  4. States: New York to reopen gyms, bowling alleys, museums.
  5. Business: How small businesses got stiffed — Unemployment starts moving in the right direction.
  6. Politics: Biden signals fall strategy with new ads.

Kamala Harris and the political rise of America's Indian community

Vice presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When Democrats next week formally nominate the daughter of an Indian immigrant to be vice president, it'll be perhaps the biggest leap yet in the Indian American community's rapid ascent into a powerful political force.

Why it matters: Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing, wealthiest and most educated demographic groups in the U.S. Politicians work harder every year to woo them. And in Kamala Harris, they'll be represented in a major-party presidential campaign for the first time.

6 hours ago - Health

The cardiac threat coronavirus poses to athletes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cardiologists are increasingly concerned that coronavirus infections could cause heart complications that lead to sudden cardiac death in athletes.

Why it matters: Even if just a tiny percentage of COVID-19 cases lead to major cardiac conditions, the sheer scope of the pandemic raises the risk for those who regularly conduct the toughest physical activity — including amateurs who might be less aware of the danger.